3 workers rescued from 130-foot tower


In a dramatic aerial rescue, three electricians who were stranded for more than two hours atop a 130-foot water tower at a Curtis Bay chemical plant were plucked from the roof by helicopter.

The three electricians -- Jeffrey Magee, 27, Donald Testerman, 25, and Stephen Nowacki, 20, all employees of the North American Electric Co. -- had climbed a ladder to the tower about 9 a.m. to repair an airplane warning light and rusted conduit at the SCM Chemical Co. in the 3900 block of Fort Armistead Road.

The ladder swivels around the tank on a pivot. An apparently rusted bearing malfunctioned and caused the ladder to disengage, the workers said.

"As they got to the top of the ladder, and the top of the tower itself, the ladder became disconnected," said Louis H. Kistner, a spokesman for SCM. "They felt it kind of give and they knew there was some difficulty. And immediately they recognized as they went to the center of the tank that the ladder had become HTC detached and it was not going to be useful in getting back down."

After they got to the top, the ladder begin to slip. "We grabbed it and wrapped our safety harnesses around it and just called for help," said Mr. Magee, who is the supervisor. He was carrying a walkie-talkie and was able to radio to personnel on the ground for help.

After a failed rescue attempt with a boom lift, the city Fire Department's HEAT (Highrise Emergency Aerial Team) unit was called in. Although it was formed in and has had drills since 1979, yesterday was the team's first rescue.

Capt. Hector Torres, a fire academy instructor who leads the team, was lowered on a cable from a Maryland State Police helicopter that hovered 150 feet above the tower. Although the workers were glad to see him, Captain Torres got a less than enthusiastic response when he explained the procedure: They would be pulled into the helicopter while perched in a basket made of netting, with no safety belt.

"I told them as long as you sit in the net and you lean back, you think of yourself in an easy chair, there's no way you can fall out," Captain Torres said.

"I was kind of worried about how we were going to get down," said Mr. Nowacki, who got the first ride. "But I got really nervous when they put me in that basket for the helicopter."

Mr. Nowacki was lifted off the tower at 11:27 a.m.; Mr. Testerman at 11:35 a.m.; Mr. Magee, at 11:41.

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