"Spider" Assists Florida Responsers in Rescue of Fallen Worker

A February 9 rescue in Crescent City, Fla., demonstrated how the use of on-site resources can greatly simplify a potentially challenging rescue.

Just after noon, a construction worker fell from scaffolding into a water tower that’s 180 feet tall. His fall-protection gear was not engaged. The accident was reported shortly thereafter, when a worker at the site went to the nearby house of the Crescent City fire chief, who then radioed information about the emergency to his department.

At 1207 hrs, the department dispatched Engine 31 and Technical Rescue Unit TR24, along with Putnam County EMS 73 and Rescue 86. Members of the Pomona Park and Palatka fire departments responded as well. 

When the units arrived on scene at 1213 hrs, they were able to contact the worker on his cell phone. The 60-year-old welder was conscious and alert, and told them he was not injured. He had fallen approximately 35 feet inside the tower.

To reach the worker, rescuers climbed an outside access ladder to a “balcony,” then up a ladder on the tank itself, and then down a ladder inside the tank to the bottom.  Fortunately, water had been drained from the tank before work had begun. Once they reached the worker, he began to complain of leg pain. So, some rescuers had to climb down to get EMS gear and then climb back up.

One of the greatest challenges to the rescuers was getting the patient through the access hole at the top. It was only about 2′ x 3′, meaning they couldn’t use a litter or significant splinting.

It could have been a long and difficult extrication, but rescuers had several things going for them. First, the worker did not appear to have life-threatening injuries and was willing to help in his own rescue. Second, he was already wearing an OSHA Type-III harness, which meant they would not have to place him in one.

The third advantage turned out to be the most important for rescuers. They initially believed they were going to have to rig their own rope rescue systems. This would have been extremely time consuming, as it would have meant setting up a haul system to raise the worker to the top of the tank as well as at least one lowering system to move him from the top of the tank to the ground. But fortunately, the maintenance company on site had a “Spider,” a type of winch device used to raise and lower equipment and materials. The “Spider” was already anchored to the

The main unit of the “Spider” is a 2′ x 3′ box, enclosed in a 4-foot-tall metal frame, with the winch mechanism at the bottom of the frame. It has two attached lines, which are used to anchor the system.
The maintenance company’s safety personnel, who were about 30 minutes away, were then dispatched to the scene to operate the “Spider.” The rescuers attached the cable to the patient, raised him up to the top of the tank, tied him off there temporarily and lowered him over the balcony and to the ground. He was then airlifted to Shands Health Care Center in Gainesville, where it was determined that he had sustained a fracture to his right leg.

Sources: EMS Lt. Joe Guthrie of Putnam County Emergency Services provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from the Florida Times-Union.

Lessons Learned/Lessons Reinforced:
When conducting size-up of a rescue scene of this nature, first responders should make sure they get in contact with workers or others who would be familiar with the scene. They must also evaluate the number and types of resources available to them. On-site resources and personnel can often facilitate the rescue. As was the case with this operation, the company’s safety personnel provided essential advice on what parts of the structure were strong enough to use as anchors. It took about 8 minutes to raise the equipment from the ground to the top of the tower, so the responders initially climbed on their own power to save time.


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