Adam Jastrezbski fled the cab of his crane on Tuesday and climbed along the boom of the crane as a fire blazed out of control at a residential complex at 663 Princess St. in Kingston.
As flames engulfed the building below, Jastrezbski walked to the end of the tower boom and lay down some 100 metres above the ground as fire crews rushed to contain the blaze.
His employer, Aram Malek of Canadian Professional Crane Inc., said Jastrezbski made the right decision to get as far away from the fire as possible.
"He did the right decision," said Malek. "There was no time to put a harness. Just run, that's what he did. He was professional."
Harold McBride, who works with the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario, said his agency has been working on a protocol for two years about what to do in the event of a fire, after noting gaps in the training.
He agreed that for Jastrezbski the tower boom was probably the safest place. But it still left the crane operator high in the air and sitting atop a structure that was being damaged by the fire, he said.
Kingston fire Chief Rhéaume Chaput estimated the fire reached temperatures of about 500 C, and said that steel begins to be compromised at about 300 C.
James Murphy, with the International Union of Operating Engineers, said Jastrezbski was just fortunate a military base was close enough to send a rescue helicopter.
"My reaction was I'm glad that building was close to a military installation and what a job the military did getting there on time and getting that guy down," said Murphy.
Search and rescue team arrived promptly
The 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron based at 8 Wing Trenton at CFB Trenton arrived about 50 minutes after they were called by the Kingston fire department.
While onlookers watched from below, search and rescue technician Sgt. Cory Cisyk was lowered from the CH-146 Griffon on a cable and then used a strap to wrap around the crane operator before they were hoisted to safety.
Murphy said he would like to see agreements with each province's workplace safety agency to come up with a plan.
"We've never had that discussion when it comes to tower crane operators. And in Ontario we have 300 tower crane operators. In Canada we have over a thousand tower crane operators. So one thing this points out is that it's remote, but it can happen," said Murphy.
Jastrezbski remains in hospital with burn injuries to his hand, back and leg, according to his wife Helen.