< Back to Articles
Firefighters Scale River Landing’s 120-foot Tower Crane
August 15, 2018
How do you rescue an operator from a 120-foot tower crane? We learned from the experts. Lieutenant Maximo Vasquez, Coordinator of the City of Miami Fire Department's Technical Rescue Team, knocked on Balfour Beatty's jobsite trailer with a mission to solve this challenge.
It all started when Lt. Vasquez gazed up at River Landing's dazzling tower cranes. The jobsite sits on roughly 8.1 acres along the Miami River and has four active tower cranes to support construction of the 2.5 million-square-foot project. The jobsite reminded him of a past rescue mission that involved extracting a tower crane operator from extreme heights.
Lt. Vasquez is Coordinator of the City of Miami Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team (TRT), a unit of emergency medical response firefighters who are specially trained in the removal and treatment of victims trapped in complex or confined spaces. He recalled how the crane operator slipped on the tower ladder and fell 15 feet to the nearest landing. Miami's TRT rushed to the scene, knowing they didn’t have much time to create a plan of action. The construction site was unfamiliar, communication with the operator was limited—and the clock was ticking.
Talk about the ultimate obstacle, but that's why safety trainings exist - to be prepared for any situation. Firefighters, including the TRT, complete rigorous training programs to ensure high performance in both rescue operations and medical treatment skills. They are consistently running drills that simulate real life emergencies to gain experience. Tower cranes, however, aren't in the training budget. While the TRT unit was successful in saving the crane operator, Lt. Vazquez knew they could've been better prepared.
After that mission, Eric Garcia, Balfour Beatty’s senior safety health and environment manager on River Landing, had a surprise visitor, Lt. Vazquez. When he asked to borrow one of our tower cranes to train the department, Eric only had one question - Can we watch?
Lights, go bag, action! The trainings took place over the course of three nights after the construction site was closed. The firefighters threw on their go bags, which carry their equipment, and ascended the tower crane - 120 feet (equivalent to an 11-story building) into the Miami sky. Three units rotated through the training, each on a different night.
Every unit approached the training using a different strategy:
- Strategy 1 - Secure the patient in a stokes basket and lower patient to the ground parallel to the tower crane.
- Strategy 2 - Harness the patient to a rescuer, secure a line outside of the tower crane's cage and descend to the ground.
- Strategy 3 - Secure the patient in a stokes basket with a rescuer attached and lower them both perpendicular to the tower crane.
While each approach works, Lt. Vasquez determined that the third strategy is most effective, because it ensures that the patient is always accompanied by a rescuer (for medical assistance) and lowered close to the medical officers and equipment. To top it off, the TRTs—from the time they arrived on the scene to when the hypothetical patient is placed in the ambulance—executed this tactic in under 15 minutes. Before, these maneuvers would average 25 minutes. Thanks to this exercise, that time has nearly been cut in half.
No one wants to think about the day when a plan goes awry, and workers are at risk. Fortunately, just like Balfour Beatty’s safety leaders, our first responders are readying themselves for the unthinkable. And now, Miami’s TRT has a protocol in place for tower crane emergencies, meaning critical minutes won’t be wasted developing an emergency action plan on-site.
“The strategic actions that the TRT implemented to create these safety protocols are very similar to Balfour Beatty’s processes,” says Eric. “Consistent communication plays a major role in narrowing down a solid safety plan. Every training and protocol put in place is another step towards being proactive rather than reactive.”
Like the TRT, we believe planning and training are fundamental to achieving Zero Harm. If you want to know more about Balfour Beatty’s mission to keep workers safe, don’t hesitate to reach out or even knock on our jobsite trailer door. Asking questions that change the status quo might just save a life one day.