Firefighters set technical rescue plan for Niagara Falls stunt

Primary and backup rescue plans are in place for Friday's high-wire walk across Niagara Falls

By Jay Rey
The Buffalo News

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — Nik Wallenda has a backup plan should he need to be rescued Friday during his walk across Niagara Falls on a two-inch-wide steel cable.

But just in case, Canadian and American authorities are ready with a backup plan to his backup plan.

"One of the conditions of the Niagara Parks Commission contract with Nik Wallenda was that he was supposed to furnish his own rescue plan," explained Douglas Kane, chief of the Niagara Parks Police Service in Canada. "We've reviewed it. We're happy with it."

Kane's comments came after a news conference Friday morning in Niagara Falls, Ont., where much of the discussion was about public safety and police preparations for handling as many as 120,000 spectators expected to converge on Queen Victoria Park for Wallenda's high-wire walk.

But Kane also touched on Wallenda's own safety and a plan of action should a rescue be necessary.

Wallenda — whose sponsors insisted he be tethered to the cable during his 1,800-foot wire-walk — has a private security team ready should he slip or be left dangling in the middle of the gorge.

Wallenda will have two "baskets" or trolley carts positioned on either side of the Falls and attached to the wire using a pulley system, said Terry Troffer, Wallenda's father and safety coordinator.

"It's really kind of straightforward," Troffer said by phone on Friday. "We have a rescue cart on each end of the line. There will be a person there manning each cart. If it so happens Nik needs a rescue, these guys are going to roll out there — depending on which side he's closest to — get him, retrieve him and bring him back."

The rescue baskets will be operated by O'Connell Electric, based in Henrietta, which also was hired to string the cable across the gorge.

"Actually, we're pretty excited," said Randy Fletcher, an O'Connell general foreman.

The baskets are about 2 feet wide and 3 feet long — just enough for two people — and can be operated by hand or mechanically by a winch attached to one of the company trucks, Fletcher said.

The equipment is normally used for working on high-voltage lines. In fact, Fletcher said, the company has used them on lines crossing the Hudson River.

"It's an approved engineered device, and we've seen them train on that," Kane said. "We're pleased with it. [Wallenda's] done a great job, and we have full confidence there will be no problem."

However, Canadian and American authorities have a contingency plan of their own.

Park police from Canada and the U.S. bought a $3,800 zipline system from a Utah company called ZipRescue, said Lt. Patrick Moriarty with the New York State Park Police.

The lightweight equipment — typically used to rescue skiers from gondolas — has a harness and elaborate pulley system so a rescuer can slide out onto the wire and retrieve Wallenda.

A team of 10 park police and firefighters from both sides of the border has been practicing together on the zipline about once a week since late April, just in case they're called into action, Moriarty said.

"So we do have a backup plan to their backup," Kane said. "However, I think his should suffice."

There will be a large police presence in and around the Queen Victoria Park and Fallsview areas as security for as many as 120,000 spectators at the event, Kane said during Friday's news conference at Table Rock, where Wallenda will end his walk.

"We deal with 50,000 to 60,000 people New Year's Eve," Kane said. "Fortunately, in this situation at least we have warm weather to deal with and alcohol won't be a significant factor. I think we're in pretty good shape."

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