Posted on: 01/18/18

Unconscious and Hanging: Tower Rescue Techniques

This is Part 1 of a series considering a very specific rescue scenario and the various techniques which may be used during such a rescue. See Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Above you is 20 metres of structural steel lattice which suspends a variety of aerials and dishes. Below you is a very long ladder which passes through a number of platforms down to the ground, about 40 metres below.

Your colleague is above you, hanging off a leg of the tower, cranking on a spanner to finish off on an installation. He’s in fall arrest. Ideally he would have been work positioning, hanging in his equipment, minimising the chance of falling. Instead he’s been rushing and just holds on with one hand on the tower while stretching across to tighten the nut.

His foot slips on a diagonal strut, in a split second causing all of his weight to transfer onto his one hand holding him on the tower. No realistic chance of holding on. In a single, rapid motion he falls onto his fall arrest equipment, about two and a half metres down, his energy absorber deploying instantly to reduce some of the impact.

But his fall arrest lanyards can’t prevent his head hitting cold, hard steel work.

He’s now unconscious, out of your reach. Time to get the rescue kit. The question is this; what technique are you going to use now to recover a casualty who has fallen out of reach and is unable to help you by clipping themselves onto a rescue rope? We will continue to operate from the presumption that the casualty is hanging from fall arrest lanyards (energy absorbing) as some other systems are easier to recover the casualty from when rigged in certain ways. In addition fall arrest lanyards are commonly used in the tower climbing industry.

At Reax Ltd in Blackpool UK we provide a wide range of tower climbing and tower rescue courses. Many of these are Arqiva approved tower climbing or rescue courses. Because of the diverse clients we work with and the background of our training team we are able to train a variety of techniques as necessary. We aim to provide training which is realistic and up to date.

This series evaluates a number of different techniques which are employed within the tower climbing industry. It’s not an exhaustive list, and there are always different variations and developments in techniques and technology. But the problem remains the same; there are some places on a tower where a fall could result in an incapacitated casualty hanging on their fall arrest lanyards in free space. Which means the rescuer cannot reach them directly.

In this series of articles we’ll consider the pros and cons of a range of different approaches. We’ll look at cut away rescues, off weighting and the use of mechanical advantage systems. These we’ll consider in the context of the rescuer being part of the system, abseiling down to the casualty. We’ll also consider “remote” rescues, in which the rescuer does not include themselves in the system, operating rescue equipment which typically stays attached to the structure, away from the casualty.

The video above shows one of our instructors, Ian, performing a “pick-off” rescue using a Skylotec Milan Rescue System. This utilises a mechanical advantage system based on a Constant Rate Descender to lift the casualty, allowing them to be detached then descend with the rescuer.