Harrowing Ordeal Ends With Both Men Safe, Loud Cheers

YONKERS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Firefighters made an amazing high-wire rescue on Friday evening.

Two workers were trapped on the side of a 28-story senior center at 289 Nepperhan Ave. in Yonkers. They were apparently working on the facade on around the 13th or 14th floor when their scaffolding gave way.

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Dennis Richmond was at a nearby bus stop when he heard a thud, then one of the men screaming.

“I called the police because I saw the two of them hanging down,” Richmond told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin. “One of them was actually standing on top of the scaffolding; the other one was actually holding on for his life.”

Suspended by their emergency harnesses, the workers dangled on the side of the building for more than an hour. Firefighters responding to the scene bashed out a nearby window, but weren’t in a position to reach the workers.

A crowd gathered, watching as a fire engine ladder fully extended – but it was not enough.

“The ladder came up about a floor-and-a-half short, so they were out of reach of that,” Yonkers Assistant Fire Chief Roger Vitolo said.

There was only one way to make the save: firefighters would have to go down the side of the building themselves, from the roof.

The men were told to be patient and stay calm by the Yonkers Emergency Services personnel at a nearby window, but the dangers were many.

“They were reaching a panic point, and they were both getting hypothermic, and there was also a thing called harness compression syndrome – if they stayed in those harnesses too long, it could actually become a life-threatening condition,” Deputy Fire Chief John Flynn said.

“We kept reassuring them every minute that they were going to be alright,” Yonkers Police Officer Jaime Molina said. “I mean they were pretty much white knuckles going there, trying to hold on. They started shivering. We tried to keep them going, as far as moving their fingers, keeping their toes going to keep the circulation going.”

Yonkers Firefighter Michael Giroux rappelled down and rescued two stranded workers after a scaffolding collapse. (Credit: CBS 2)

Barry McGooey of the Yonkers Fire Department said firefighter and rescue operations expert Mike Giroux rappelled not once, but twice, each time slowly and methodically to avoid snapping or dislodging any more of the scaffolding.

The veteran firefighter arrived with ropes – and reassurance.

“Once I hook up my safety line, I pat them on the back and say, ‘you’re okay now,’” Giroux told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

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Then he focused his attention on the lower worker.

“He seemed a little bit more panicky,” Giroux said. “We decided to take him off first, because if he really moved around a lot, it may affect the top person, the top victim.”

With the rescuer and victim now one, the slow and careful drop to the ground was textbook. The second rescue went just as well, a 90-minute drama successfully over thanks to the Yonkers Fire and Police Departments and the man who risked his life.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” Giroux said. “This is just something that I was fortunate enough to be here today, I was fortunate to be picked to go over to do this.”

Cheers erupted when he brought the second man safely down.

“No words can describe this right here,” one witness said. “You don’t see stuff like this every day.”

As he took a congratulatory phone call in front of the building he scaled down, Girough was on cloud nine.

“It makes you feel great,” he said. “It makes you say that all the training you do is worth every bit of it.”

Giroux was picked for a reason – he teaches rope rescue around the country, the right man at the right time.

“This is probably the best rescue, you know, great outcome,” Giroux said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

One of the workers was taken to an area hospital. Both workers, though, were seen walking on their own power after their ordeal.

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What do you make of this amazing rescue? Sound off in our comments section.