Training reduces risk for police's tactical rope squad

Long hours of training and practice help Ottawa police's tactical rope squad to handle dangerous, hair-raising missions where split-second decision making can mean the difference between life and death.
A team of Ottawa police officer go to great heights to save people's lives. 3:44

Last June, Ottawa police Const. Sean Kay was first on the scene where an intoxicated man had climbed up the girders of the Alexandra Bridge.

With his rappel gear but without the immediate support of his tactical rope squad teammates, Kay secured himself to the bridge, 30 feet below the deck and 200 feet above the water, and held on to the desperate man with his bare hands until two of his squad-mates arrived.

Ottawa police Const. Sean Kay, a member of the force's elite rappelling team, recounted an early morning rescue he performed on the Alexandra Bridge this summer. (CBC)

"We were up there for quite a few minutes and it was just me and him and my rappel gear," said Kay of the incident. "So it was good to put your training into actual practice."

Kay is part of a small eight-man unit of tactical officers who rappel from buildings to perform high-risk takedowns and rescues. The unit must work quickly and safely, as in Kay's bridge rescue, in less than ideal conditions.

Two officers trained in rapelling are required for every tactical unit shift.

While each year the unit spends countless hours practising — tying knots, securing ropes to a variety of structures and rappelling — and in three decades they've been called on 15 times.

"Maybe we have a hostage situation where the only option is to get from the rooftop to the outside of the building," explained Const. Gord Ward, the rappel unit's most senior member. "Or it could be a drug warrant scenario … like send the guy down the rope, can he look inside the apartment to see how many guys are in the apartment? Are they dealing drugs? Is it an optimal time to go in the front door?"

When they drop off the side of a building's ledge on a mission, each officer is carrying 25 pounds of equipment: a two-way radio, a gun, taser, pepper spray and flash grenades.

Const. Gord Ward is the most senior member of the rappelling unit that boasts a perfect safety record over its 36-year history. (CBC)

In situations where crucial decisions must be made quickly, there's no time to worry whether the knot will hold.

For Kay, rappelling — either during training or in the field — never gets dull.

"No matter how many times that I step over the edge, there's always that adrenaline rush." he said.

In 36 years of the tactical rope squad's existence, no officer on the team has been injured.