Crane worker saved from Kingston fire in 'extremely unusual rescue'
'I kept telling him I was trying to get him out of there'
The military rescue technician who was lowered from a helicopter to save a crane operator stranded above a massive fire in Kingston, Ont., credits daily training for the success of an "extremely unusual rescue."
Sgt. Cory Cisyk, a search and rescue technician for 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron based at 8 Wing Trenton at CFB Trenton, recounted the rescue to CBC's Ian Hanomansing.
Cisyk, who is originally from Regina, was aboard the CH-146 Griffon rescue helicopter that arrived at the scene above Princess and Victoria streets before 4 p.m. Tuesday to reach the worker, who was trapped high in the air while fire crews worked to put out a blaze below.
Based on the information they received, they planned a "double-up" rescue in which Cisyk would be lowered from the chopper on a cable and then use a strap or "horse collar" to wrap around the crane operator and pull him up.
Cisyk said that when he first made contact with the crane operator, it was difficult to communicate with him because of the noise from the helicopter.
"I kept asking if he was OK. I kept telling him I was trying to get him out of there."
Cisyk said it took time to get the collar around the man because he was lying down at the end of the crane's boom, but that he got some help from the helicopter flight engineer.
"He could tell I was having a hard time getting the individual to stand up, so he was gently hoisting to aid me."
Once he got the crane operator in the chopper, Cisyk said, he had only a brief conversation with him to find out if he was hurt. The man was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
"For us, this was extremely unusual. But even discussing with the crew afterwards … we really figured that the training we do every day really came into it and played a big factor in ... the way things ran."
John Ashie, who was working at his family's car dealership down the street, said the entire episode was like something out of an action film.
"Especially when the helicopter guy was rescuing him from the crane, everyone was like, 'Oh my god! I can't believe this is happening, it's just so surreal,"' said Ashie.
David Elias, a civilian public affairs officer working for the Canadian military, said the crews are normally not involved in urban rescue.
"The number of times we would have hoisted someone off a crane like this, I imagine we could count that on one hand. Normally we are hoisting people off of boats or mountains," said Elias.
"He wasn't just standing on a tower crane. He was standing on a tower crane surrounded by flames."
All construction workers at the site are believed to be accounted for, according to Kingston police.
"We're extremely grateful of the amazing work done by CFB Trenton to rescue that one individual that everybody was worried about," Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen told CBC's Power & Politics host Evan Solomon. "This is a day that the public can be extremely proud of your emergency workers. Right throughout the province, people from neighbouring communities, fire and rescue have been coming into Kingston to assist."
Although officials said the fire was under control, and there are no longer fears that a nearby gas station could explode, there are still concerns that the crane could collapse.
Fire began at vacant housing complex
The fire began at about 2:20 p.m. at a student housing complex under construction near the 600 block of Princess Street, according to Kingston police Const. Steve Koopman. The building, which was vacant, was engulfed in flames.
The fire had also spread to the roof of a Royal Canadian Legion villa, and residents have left the building, police confirmed.
Power had to be shut off in the area around the fire, and residents living within a half-kilometre of the fire were taken to an emergency shelter at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour at the bottom of Yonge Street.
Police said residents have been asked to stay away from the current perimeter of the fire, from Concession Street to the north and west, Albert Street to the east and Dundas Street to the south.
They said they'll be advising residents when they can re-enter the evacuation zone for pets or other items.
With files from The Canadian Press