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[TowerTalk] Tower Climbing Business

To: <>
Subject: [TowerTalk] Tower Climbing Business
From: (
Date: Thu Jun 26 18:53:24 2003
On Thu, 26 Jun 2003 wrote:
> I am interested in anyone that climbs towers as a partime or fulltime job.
> Specifically about rates per foot, insurance info, and etc.  I am doing this
> as a partime job( I am a career firefighter-emt) and would like info from
> someone with more experience.  I have worked for a company as a line 
> technician and was responsible for a 500ft receiver site and enjoyed it quite 
> a bit.  Any info will be greatly appreciated.

I worked for Valcom, Inc for three months during the summer of 1999.
I mainly installed radios, however had exposure to the tower side of
things. While out on projects I was able to view a fair amount of other
tower companies and I found that Valcom was the best outfitted, we had
excellent trucks, we had excellent safety gear, Valcom hired competent
crane operators, etc. However, things were nothing to close to safe.

The tower climbing industry is a very dangerous field to get into. I
believe I have the academic and professional backing to assert this.
I am currently obtaining my BS in Occupational Safety and my father has
been in the field of Industrial, Commerical, and Construction safety for
his 35 year career. I have studied countless fall fatalities in school,
how they occur, how to prevent them, what factors limit and aggregate

When you train, they train you proper techniques: three points of contact,
constant, villigant, 100% fall projection, proper use of your positioning
lanyard, proper use of your other gear (including RF monitors, etc). You
feel very comfortable going into the field with what the safety team
teaches you, with the work load you feel you are going to get.

Than you go to work.

Work is nothing like the office.

Tower climbers are a hard group of people. Everyone carried weapons,
everyone had egos the size of mountains, and scars from injuries. You
have to prove yourself when you get out there. They are not willing to
accept you as part of your crew until you show them that you are stupidly
unafraid of heights. This makes the attrition rate extremely, extremely,
high with certain crew leaders.

Theres various ways that a crew leader can harrass you on a tower. He
can constantly give you chores to "cross members", which involves the
switching of sides on a self supporting tower. This makes your heart
drop and your legs become jelly when you first do it. You practice
back at the office at 30', but when you go out into the field, you do it
at 350'. Large, large self supports have breadth to them. I am 5'11"
and I would place my boots on the crossing member of steel, than reach
my hands up and just barely grab the top of the X. You will walk toe
to heel, things getting smaller and smaller, until you reach the point
of the X. You than have to switch fall protection sides, rewrap it,
realign yourself, and return. Let me stress again, this is not cake at
350', no matter how immune to heights you are.

Besides cross members, you can become involved in situtations were you
are forced to actually lower yourself down by your fall protection and
dangle, out beyond the tower, at extreme height. Your fall protection
is designed to rip out when it reaches a certain treshold, therefore
you are pushing this limit, as well as breaking a set rule of fall
protection--never load it. However, most tower companies do not setup
or train individuals to install static rappelling and ascension systems.
It's not intutively straightforward, it requries extra gear, and most
importantly, "you don't have time to do that shit." So you get on your
fall protection, lower yourself, make the adjustment, climb it back up
like in high school gym, hope to grab the tower, secure yourself, be

During all this, if you show fear, if you do not execute it with fluidity
you are degraded in the eyes of others and get assigned the horrible
jobs on the tower. Sometime, go look at the base of a large self
supporting tower, and look at every single bolt on it. Than, think to
yourself, how in the world would you get to X bolt that seems impossibly
far out there. It's done, trust me.

To tighten a bolt out at distance you might have to walk on a 3" piece
of steel, 150' in the air. If you fall, you have fall protection, but
falling into your fall protection is a horrible experience. If you fall
while on that piece of steel, you will immediately drop six feet, than
your protection will rip out and you'll fall two to three more feet, as a
way to disspiate the energy over distance and time. This seems nominally
okay, but if you look below yourself you see that a 10' fall will smack
you into another piece of steel, than the swing will smack you into
another. Frightently  enough, not too many tower companies train other
employees how to save a person unconscious in a strange position, dangling
from their protection.

Emergency responders very often do not know how to climb, or are not
setup to safely, so will not. At Valcom, 10 months before I was hired
on a worker was not statically attached to the tower, and through a
series of mistakes which I will not publically make available because
there is a lot of honor (and honestly, respect for the fallen and his
crew) fell from 450' to 150'. He landed on a microwave ice platform that
was protecting a big Andrew dish. He died there from his injuries. This
was a combination of factors, but one noteable was that the responders
where unable to ascend the tower to preform life saving medical

While I was there, for 90 days, three serious accidents happened. A kid
my age (near 20) lost his finger when the cross members of a self
supporting tower came together like scissors on his hand. A experienced
crew lead was raising a platform on a monopole from a cat head and the
wire rope snapped. He turned his back, and 300' of hyper-tensioned wire
rope whiplashed up and down his back. He was hospitalized. Another guy
was on a rooftop sighting microwave dishes and fell off the roof, landed
on scrap wood, on a exposed nail. It went through his back and punctured
his lung, his lung collapsed.

These sort of injuries occur to the best, to the worst, to afraid, and to
the confident. However, you usually don't get hurt as much if you are
afraid, if you constantly pay heed to your protection rules and you don't
do anything more stupid than you have to.

I would always ask guys I worked with if they had ever fallen into their
fall protection, almost all of them said yes. Some of them had stories
that would put hair on anyones chest just from hearing them. I was shocked
how consistanly people answered yes though. Falling into your protection
means you made a mistake, that you would have died had that been a
conventional belt with only a positioning system. This is one of the
honest, everyman, factors that makes me preach until I go horse about
good gear. These guys, doing this everyday, knowing their stuff made
mistakes. What makes you think you won't? If their positioning systems
failed, why wouldn't yours? They didn't die, but you probably would

The most noteable story I remember hearing is of a guy thinking he had
his right hand protection attached (therefore safe) and was attaching
his left. He felt during the manuever. He failed, fell, fell, and finally
one arm of his fall protection smashed against the tower and latched. He
was slammed against the tower, and was generally uninjured, save bruised
ribs and cuts. He said he clicked in his positioning system. Collected
himself for about 10 minutes, than climbed back up and kept working.

Even if you somehow beat the cheer chance that is involved in this
activity, you will not beat the work schedule, the traveling, the guys,
the grinding.

Everyone that I knew who worked in the tower industry lived in a hotel,
or had them as a second address. I went up to Fort Wayne, Indiana for
a push of Horizon (yes, Horizon, not Verzion) communications. They had
a new tower nextwork that had to go live before a certain date, for
some event trigger. I worked 110 hours weeks, until I could take it no
longer and quit. A 110 hour week is waking up at 6am, working until 9,
10, or 11 with floodlights, eating, than going to sleep. Seven days a
week. I worked so much that I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see, I slept
in hotel rooms where bugs crawled all over me and I was so exhausted I
didn't care, I didn't care. I slept with my boots on, wore the same
clothes. I'd sit up late at night and talk this girl who was at the
main desk. She was the only thing I had. Somehow she knew this
and comforted me a lot. I knew if I had anything at home, or anyone
that I cared for I'd be destroyed. I saw most of the people I worked
with destroying their families and relationships because of their job.

While working all these hours I did stupid things. I inverted the power
on 30,000 dollar radios. I sometimes would miss the shrink wrap jacket
and cut myself. Once I did it almost to the bone. I sucked the blood
off, wrapped it with electrical tape, and kept going. Going to the
hospital for a skin laceration would have been laughable, out there,
like that.

If you're on a tower, exhausted, worn out, you fail. Imagine being on
the tower in your back yard from 6am until 10pm, with one thirty minute
break. Imagine urinating off the thing, imagine hearing "headache" and
making your body very small so you don't get hit by the falling cresent
wrench. When 10am comes, and you're at 60' from being at 375' you feel
like you're on the ground. You no longer attach fall protection, or say,
you might not one time out of a hundred, out of a thousand, you inject
risk, "needless risk" that will happen, and has to happen because your
tired, you want to get off that damn thing, your hands are bleeding.

Honestly, theres a million reasons to not get into commerical tower
construction. Monopoles settle, you drop 8" while working on them (this
scares the shit out of you).  It gets cold, hardline connectors require
fingers, not gloves. It gets hot. It gets lonely. It gets bloody. It
gets dirty. It doesn't pay well.

I was paid $9/hr to do all this. I would take home $1200 a week, after
taxes. I could get $300 cash a week in per diem. I lived to be on or
at the base of towers. Seeing them would make me sick.

The guys that work on these things are not heros, they are not romantic,
they are tough, they are strong, but they are a out of luck lot.

I always thought 1000' foot guyed towers were amazing. Amazing until I
saw the commerical version of the gin pole. It basically is a 100' section
of Rohn 55G. Imagine moving your 100' tower around, up and down the tower
with chains, with blocks of wood. There was a procedure called jumping the
gin which I never saw done, however, it impressed even the most hardcore
of the group. Those who had done it were in their own class, respected.
Supposely, when the gin pole is raised it goes roughly. I'm not positive
why, but I think it evolves around the gin pole having to be kept from
the tower with blocks, while its in a vertical motion. They said people
got their hands mashed, legs broken in it. Everyone was happy when the
gin pole stayed in the back of the lot and didn't get loaded onto a

You'd usually not get any help from anyone back at the office. When we
didn't have a key to a cell site they'd tell us, "you got tools, take
the gate apart." Once I drove into a newly ground worked site towards
the evening to install radios. I installed the radios with a guy from
this temp agency I was training, everything went well, than we got back
in our truck. Nothing really happened. We got out saw truck had sunk into
the gravel, to its axels. We tried to get a bulldozer working, but didn't
have the key and couldn't force it with a screw driver like you sometimes
can, so we had to dig that F550 V10 9,500 lbs of crap in the back (I
weighted it at a gravel quarry once) for four hours, well past dark.
We'd dig, hit the engine, than dig more.

Namely, working in the tower industry is hard, it's dangeous, it's scary,
and it isn't Ham Radio. The towers we personally own are small, delicate,
easy to install. Incredibly easy. The things that XX does for Ham towers
is starting to be what commerical boys do. You basically start working
after your jaw has dropped.

If you really want to hire on, ask about their injury rates, ask about
what gear they issue, ask about what you will drive, how much you will
drive, what your per diem will be, how you will be assigned with crew
leaders, how the attrition rate is, how many hours you will work max,
under extreme load, how they eat, how they train, how many of them are
out on bail (this last one, really, isn't much of a joke-- crew lead
would always ask if anyone was on probation when we'd cross a state

Remember this-- I'd never let anyone I loved do commerical tower work.
Commerical tower work was so dangerous that it made me want to dedicate
my life to safety and saving people. Commerical tower work can be done
safely, but most of the time, it is not, even by people with good
intentions and all the wonderful will in the world.

If you want more stories, buy me a beer at Dayton. I have tons.

Be careful, be safe, all of you.

73 Greg/KE9R

(Thanks for putting up with my grammar and my spelling. I wrote this
very quickly in Pine and don't have checkers.)

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