We are all familiar with the OSHA and ANSI standards because we are responsible and compliant professionals. If we weren’t we probably wouldn’t be members of the MAC-ISA and therefore would not be reading this article. Let us be honest. Many of us have small businesses and are the working owner, climber, foreman, bosses, and all around overworked jack of all trades. Often times there is one climber on site or the second company climber is off on another job site with the other crew trying to increase productivity and profit in these tough times. The reality of it is that you can’t always have a second climber with gear ready in case of a much dreaded Aerial Rescue scenario. So what happens? Who’s coming? How long will it take them to get here? What equipment and training do they have? Will they know what to do? Of course there are many other questions to ask but I felt these were the most pressing and ones that we can most likely find answers to easily. The best case would be a climber less than 90 feet up near the street within reach of an Aerial Device AKA Ladder truck. That’s the optimum situation. We all know this rarely happens. If we get into a bind it’s going to be in the back yard and no access for equipment. It would seem logical that we could just direct the Ladder Truck into the back yard and have them set up for a rescue. Unfortunately the standard in the fire service is not to take these apparatus off the paved surface. The ladder weighs roughly 58,000 pounds and has an outrigger footprint of about 13 feet and up. All these numbers depend on the style and materials used in the manufacturing. Generally you’ll find a wheel base of around 38 feet. You can see why the Aerial Apparatus is an unlikely choice for an off road rescue. Another factor to consider is the availability of a municipal bucket truck. Unfortunately many municipalities don’t have a standing agreement between agencies for emergency deployment of those kind of resources. On one particular incident I spoke to the Forestry Supervisor for the city and explained we had an aerial rescue in a tree and no access. I asked for a bucket and an operator to respond. His first question to me was “Who’s gonna pay the overtime?” As you can probably figure, they did not send a bucket and an operator to the scene. Our second option would be the Technical Rescue Team. Who are they? What gear do they have? What are they trained to do? Many cities have teams of individuals on duty to respond immediately. Some have county or regional teams made up of individuals on duty in several different cities. Deployment is timely and complicated. They usually respond to a central meeting point to obtain gear and respond from there. Perhaps you are located in an area where all your first responders are volunteers who have to respond from work or home. Often times they show up on scene in their personal vehicles thus complicating the situation even more. So the first hurdle is to just get the team on scene in a reasonable period of time. The second hurdle is to overcome the incident logistics. Take my technical rescue team for example. My city has a population of over 200,000 people. We have a 13 to 20 member team depending on the complexity of the incident. Many of them are members of FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task force and have responded to major incidents like Oklahoma City, the Pentagon, and Haiti. They are experts who do a tremendous amount of training and arrive with bags of rope gear and hardware. What they are experts in is the industrial and construction settings. Multiple bomb proof rigging points. Predictable rope angles and known load factors. There are some amazing rescues we have performed with the most complicated rigging scenarios you can imagine, all in complicated conditions. What they are not experts in is how to rescue someone out of a tree. It’s still aerial work but completely foreign to them. The Tech Teams are governed by multiple NFPA standards which don’t even come close to the situations the Arborist would be involved in. There are multiple line standards, load standards and equipment rating standards that would be laughable to the average working climber. It’s the National Fire Protection Agencies “Law” on vertical rescue for the fire service. Many agencies would look at these standards as tying their hands on how to do the rescue. Lack of understanding on what the Arborist does and how their climbing and rigging systems work pigeon holes the first responders into a step back and scratch your head mode. I have been on several of these incidents where I just wanted someone to respond to the fire station, get my personal truck and bring me my tree gear. Unfortunately due to liability reasons and the powers in charge, that just didn’t happen. Talk about frustrating! So what’s the solution? I have worked with several area Fire Departments over the last 10 years on purchase specifications and equipment training. After the gear arrived, several days of climbing and training, and follow up practice sessions has paid off. They have done rescues of not only Climbers but sky divers, and aircraft incidents. Are they as proficient at a rescue from a tree as the climber you work with day in and day out? Not likely. Do they arrive on scene with an idea of what they are getting into and the factors involved? Sure they do. Will they be more likely to seek your professional opinion rather than push you aside with the typical “Everyone calm down we’re here now” attitude? Most of the time, I hope. So, the key is for you to make contact with your first responders, if nothing else, to understand what they are and are not prepared for. The best option for all involved if for you to work together training and getting to know each other. Any Tech Rescue person looks for an excuse to get their feet off the ground any way they can. We’ve climbed water towers, gantry cranes, and high-rise buildings from the outside. Any excuse to get on rope is a much sought after training exercise. I feel confident your invitation for training will be welcomed. This opportunity is mutually beneficial. You will have to initiate the conversation as they will not be likely to seek you out. Build the relationship, contribute to the safety of everyone on rope in your neck of the woods. Who knows, you may pick up a reliable part time employee or two along the way.
Steve Connally is a ISA Certified Arborist with 15 years climbing experience. He is currently a production climber with a Commercial Tree Service based in Virginia Beach. Steve is also a Captain with Norfolk Fire Rescue in Norfolk Virginia and has extensive training and experience as a member and a Supervisor of Norfolk’s Technical Rescue Team. He has 20 years of experience in the fire service and as a Paramedic. Steve is a member of the MAC ISA Safety Committee and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org