Rapid City emergency crews practice communications tower rescue

RAPID CITY S.D. – Rescue crews are called out to the woods, cliff sides and bodies of water on a sometimes weekly basis.

On Friday, they trained for a different type of rescue, one that can happen hundreds of feet in the air.

Rescue crews from across the state were in Rapid City receiving critical training to save someone from a communications tower. Members of the South Dakota Task Force 1, comprised of first reponders from Aberdeen, Watertown, Sioux Falls and Rapid City gathered near Stevens High School to train on a radio tower.

The crews conduct the training just in case tower climbers become stuck or experience a medical emergency on the tower.

“Tower climbing is the most dangerous job in North America,” said Captain Calen Maningas with the Rapid City Fire Department. “These guys who do go up there are already at high risk. We’re just preparing ourselves to go up there and help them.”

A tower climber from Colorado was killed in January while servicing a tower near Caputa. Now, crews are working to make sure accidents like that don’t happen. And with rural broadband developing across the country with new cell towers built frequently, organizers say the need for rescue operations like this could increase.

The South Dakota Task Force 1 develops skills to climb the tower, to strap themselves in, and to deal with how the tower behaves. Unlike a rock cliff face, communication towers rock back and forth in the wind.

“You get a wind going and you get into an environment where what you’re working on is moving and that’s a little unnerving to start with,” said Emergency Response Trainer Kerry Tuckett.

Also on towers, climbers have two points of contact. Their hands and feet, and their climbing lanyard.

When they’re hundreds of feet in the air on a metal tower, training involves building up a psychological tolerance as well.

“We are just conditioning ourselves to be in a high-risk, low-frequency environment and so it just builds the comfort level and the skill sets,” said Captain Maningus.

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