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Houston Fire Department Rescues Two Window Washers

Aired August 8, 2001 - 14:40   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to this slice of reality television that we have been showing you from Houston, the rescuers from the Houston Fire Department who were approaching the second of two window washers dangling at some height above streets of Houston are now strapping up the second window washer with a lot of harness.

And the picture we are showing you now, it shows the lines extending from the roof down to the stranded window washer who was standing atop his scaffold which went very quickly from its horizontal position to a vertical position. What they are doing now is trying to wrap enough harness around him to sustain him for the pull up to that position on the roof.

These are going to be pulling. You can even see, they are ready almost like a tug-of-war there to bring up the line. The rescuer who is down with him now has been wrapping yellow webbing and black webbing around him of the sort you would find in a rock climbing store in the country.

It has been going around his shoulders, under his thighs. He has been improvising a makeshift harness of about 10 points around the body of this window washer, as much support as he can provide with the equipment that he was able to carry down as the repelled down the side of this building, an office building that Mr. Jack Williams of the Houston Fire Department told us was about 10 or 12-stories high. And they were on just the second or third story down from the roof.

And you can see earlier in that picture that the scaffold upon which they are standing now extended of course horizontally from two poles reaching over the roof. They don't trust any of the cables coming from the poles to the scaffold so the fire department has put its own lines on this window washer and using the same lines and an emergence harness, they have rescued one of the window washers, brought him down in a ladder that extended long enough to reach him.

This window washer was at a considerably greater height and was beyond the reach of their mechanized equipment. And so this individual rescuer had to climb down personally to join the window washer on the top of what could be a very unstable scaffold and an certain perch and get him trussed up as quickly as possible for the pull back to the roof.

These are pictures provided to us by our affiliate in Houston, KTRK TV. Their helicopter has been in this position now for about 30 minutes now. We are also having news of another sort from our other affiliate, KHOU TV, both in Houston.

In a bit of a driving rain storm, that seems just to have subsided, but moments ago as we were watching, the rain was blowing almost sideways due to the high winds around this building, a kind of venturi effect cased by tall building construction, make it just that much more complicated.

Imagine now you are abandoned about 13 stories above the ground. You are standing on an aluminum platform that may or may not hold your weight, that may or may not continue to provide a position for you, and you are being asked to wait for rescuers to reach your side and it's raining on top of all that to make their work that much more complicated.

There's the wider view now of what they are up against. And as you can see, everyone taking this very calmly because, as Mr. Jack Williams from the Houston Fire Department told us earlier, they train for this all the time. But the reason they have to come down from the top is because there just isn't enough height on their ladder which is down in the slot there between that parking garage and the office building itself to reach this point.

The first of the window washers to be rescued is down. He walked down the fire ladder under his own power, a good sign, and he is being looked at now by emergency medical crews on the ground. No word yet on his condition but certainly heartening signs that he is able to transport himself. All throughout this, the second window washer seems to have been in pretty good shape too, responding to the instructions of this rescuer, now stepping into loops formed by the rescuer as he was tying up this harness and hanging on to the line at the same time, but assisting in his own rescue helping there, with the harness.

Clearly the rescuer is not out on the platform. His weight is not supported by that scaffold. The rescuer is being supported by the cables that have been lowering him down from the roof, trying to keep as much weight as he can off the scaffold because of its precarious nature. They don't know whether it is going to hold in that position and they could send the whole thing crashing down to the people below.

So there is a lot of concern both from the roof and the ground about the outcome of this rescue attempt of the second window washer dangling ten stories above Houston. We will keep eye on this situation which seems to be progressing well and we will let you now how it's going. Right now we will step away and take a break and we will rejoin you after that. CNN LIVE TODAY continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRAZIER: Back now to Houston for what we hope is the final moments of this lengthy time spent rescuing two window washers whose scaffolding collapsed sending them hanging 10 to 12 stories above Houston. What you can see now is one man dressed in navy blue who is a rescuer who has repelled down from the roof and he has, between his legs and in the harness that he is controlling, the second of two window washers.

The first has already hit the ground, he has already been rescued from the ground by a fire department ladder and a basket on the top of the ladder. He is now safe on the ground. And we are about two story left and these men hope to climb up. The rescuer was actually stepping his way up the side of building as his coworkers, his colleagues on the roof, pulled on the line. And they were pulling by hand. There is no mechanization up there, no winch.

These are just the strong arms of the Houston Fire Department reaching out to save this window washer, and the strong legs in the case of that rescuer, you can see now holding him off the side of that concrete building.

Six stories up, according to the helicopter pilot from our affiliate, KTRK TV. Still beyond the reach of mechanized equipment on the ground, they are going to go higher. We may see that now as they begin to inch their way up. What we can't see from this view is the grunt work being done by the guys hanging on the cable and hauling it upwards from the roof.

But they have a long way to go here and the outcome if by no means certain. They have left behind the precarious perch on which this window washer spent about 30 minutes. You can see it there at the very bottom of the picture. The scaffolding which flipped from its horizontal position to vertical when one of the cables snapped at one end.

It stranded him on the high end of the scaffolding and stranded his coworker window washer on the safety harness that he was wearing. He was just dangling from one line. He has already been reached by rescuers brought to the ground.

Taking their time here at every step of the way but what they did do was work in a very painstaking fashion to lash up a homemade harness or a ready-made harness, we should say, custom-made harness, for this window washer, with the webbing that this rescuer brought down with him when he repelled from the roof down to the window washer.

We are going to listen for a moment to some eyewitnesses on the ground being questioned by our affiliate station KHOU TV. Let's listen to what they have to say about all this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They did move over to the guy that was dangling on the left and they saved him. And right now they are saving the guy who was on the cleaner. And they are hoisting him up right now. I didn't get to see them save the guy on the left because I was driving over here.

UNIDENTIFIED KHOU TV REPORTER: Travis, did you get to see what position the scaffolding was? Was it horizontal or vertical? How did it end in that situation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's straight vertical right now. It must have fallen. I didn't see it fall. UNIDENTIFIED KHOU TV REPORTER: What do you think is going on right now as far as the rescue -- do you think it has gone on pretty quickly?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like they are doing it pretty safely. They have tons of help up there. They are moving him up pretty slowly. It looks like they have a couple support. He is holding on to the guy. They are going up slowly all the way to the top. I guess the truck couldn't get them to go down. They are pretty high up there.

UNIDENTIFIED KHOU TV REPORTER: They are pretty high up there. Tell me about what you are seeing on the ground as far as people spectating, gawking in awe of this whole thing.

FRAZIER: The comments from passers-by and from people working in that building as related to reporters from KHOU TV, one of our affiliated stations in Houston, Texas where this drama is playing out six or seven stories above the ground now.

What we would like to do is bring you up to date and recap. We are about 45 minutes in now to a complicated rescue mounted by the firefighters of Houston, Texas, following their response to an accident along a building when two window washers had their scaffolding fall. One of the cables snapped. It went from a horizontal position along these bar windows to a vertical position.

It left this window washer you see now your screen dangling, but standing atop the vertical scaffold, and left another one hanging simply from the safety harness he was wearing clipped on to a window. That first window washer has been rescued and brought to the ground and is now being evaluated by medical personnel.

And the second is only feet away now from safety. And as you can see, four or five firemen are pulling the yellow line on which he is supported and also supported by the arms and legs of one rescuer who has repelled down the side of the building to join him personally and dress him up in a harness that was custom-built for this rescue and walk him back up to the rooftop.

Because they are too high for a mechanized ladder to reach them and it is too difficulty to lower them because of the scaffolding which is in their way and would abbraid the ropes that they need to bring him back.

As you can see here, it is just sort of a tug-of-war maneuver where five firefighters are pulling them up and now only five or six feet from safety for this window washer who has had a very long and wet afternoon.

We are going to watch until we know for sure that this window washer has made it to the roof after all this time. We want to make sure that he is home safe. We are heartened to know that the first window washer is in fact, safe and appears to be in good condition based on his walking down the ladder under his own power. This will probably do it now as the muscle boys get within a few feet and will walk this line as far as they can across the roof of this building which is marked there, you can see a little bit of the sign "The Baker Hughes Building" in New York.

It is always unsettling to have a window washer show up outside your office, but then to have this drama unfold too must have made for a pretty unproductive workday at Baker Hughes. Also visible in this shot now is the machinery from which the scaffold is supposed to dangle. Those horizontal bars supported by yellow strutwork right at the edge of the building are what initially supported the scaffold that these two window washers were on.

Now the rescuer, the fire fighter at least holding on to lip of the roof. And the window washer himself only about three feet away from safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a matter of lifting him up, but they are fastened by harnesses. Obviouslsy the last part of it will probably be the scariest for this individual because he is so close...

FRAZIER: Voices that we are hearing, by the way, are from those reporters and pilots aboard KHOU's helicopter which has been following this. So too another helicopter from KTRK TV on the scene within seconds on the word of the word of the scaffold's collapse.

But now over the top and to the safety of the rooftop the second window washer involved in this very dramatic episode in Houston, Texas this afternoon.

Both men rescued, both men, we believe, to be in good condition. We will bring you an update on their condition after we learn it. First, let's go back to Donna.

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