Mark Conant of Cocoa and Brandon O’Neill of Orlando, both 26, were working on cellular phone equipment atop the water tower in the Hammock Tuesday evening when O’Neill fell inside the tower, triggering an elaborate rescue effort by Flagler County Fire Rescue’s Technical Rescue Team.
Inclement weather kept O’Neill from being flown to Halifax hospital as a trauma alert. He was transported by ground. County officials say his condition is unknown, but a trauma alert requiring an airlift usually suggests an individual has been injured seriously or critically.
A county release states O’Neill fell 120 feet, though a Flagler County Sheriff’s report says it’s not been determined how far O’Neill actually fell. A fall of 120 feet can be fatal.
O’Neill has been an employee of Ericsson, the communications company, for just six months, and may have lacked climbing experience, according to a Flagler County Sheriff’s report. He was descending from the top of the water tower when he fell on a dome metal ceiling inside the cylindrical structure.
Ericsson employees have been working on the tower for several days, a Palm Coast spokesperson said today. The tower at 5636 North Ocean Shore Boulevard, or State Road A1A, belongs to the city. It leases tower space to cell phone companies. The leases are managed for the city by Diamond Communications. Ericsson is a subcontractor. Conant and O’Neill were done for the day. Conant sent O’Neill down. O’Neill used the ladder, not ropes, to go down.
Five to 10 minutes later, Conant followed down the interior ladders when he heard “a loud thud,” according to the report, and saw O’Neill laying on the metal dome. (The deputy had observed that the domed ceiling was approximately 25 feet above the bare concrete floor.) Conant did not see O’Neill fall nor could he say how far he’d fallen. Authorities were dispatched to the scene at 6:43 p.m.
David Payton, a 44-year-old Ericsson employee who’s investigated many falls, told the sheriff’s deputy that company policy requires climbers to have some form of tethering for safety to prevent falls greater than 6 feet, and that descents “should be made either using the ropes with a descent device or two large clips for climbing a ladder<‘ according to the report. “The clips have a safety catch mechanism to prevent accidental unhooking and one clip should always be attached to the structure while climbing or descending.” Payton told the deputy that the harness has several shock indicators that would show if a fall occurred while tethered. Firefighters observed that O’Neill’s harness was secured on his person but not to any ropes or lines when they arrived. His climbing gear was left on the ceiling.
Inside the tower, the deputy observed five platforms that appeared to be spaced by 25 feet each, each platform with an access portal on the bottom, “offset to the ladder, with a guard rail enclosing the areas containing the portal and ladder,” according to the deputy’s description.
The deputy had gone inside the tower after the Technical Rescue Team completed its rescue. “Crews worked in such an efficient, quick, and calm manner,” said Battalion Chief Brady Barry, who was on scene. “The rescue operation ran smoothly with clear communication amongst the crews.”
Flagler County’s Technical Rescue Team is recognized by the Florida State Fire Marshal’s office, and is deployed to complex rescues, natural disasters, and extrications. About five years ago, Flagler County and Palm Coast specialized teams climbed the Palm Coast water tower for a rescue of a man who took ill while working there.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the crews and their abilities to utilize their training to bring the patient to safety,” said Fire Chief Michael Tucker. Units that responded to the rescue include Flagler County Fire Rescue Engine 41 and Rescue 41 initially, soon followed by Battalion 62, Engine 92, Rescue 92, and Technical Rescue Team 312 all of B shift.