Rescued scaffolding worker speaks out

March 5, 2011 8:15:21 PM PST
One of the two men who dangled from safety ropes about 12 stories up on the side of a building in Yonkers after their scaffolding collapsed is speaking out.

Daniel Hernandez Sevilla, 26, was the first man rescued. Sevilla says they had been working on the building for seven hours without a problem. But at the end of the workday, when they tried to lower themselves, the motor broke and the scaffolding fell apart.

Sevilla's friend, Fernando Enriquez, was the second man rescued.

Sevilla said, "He screamed, 'We need help' because we're in the air!"

"I felt a little fear, like very tense. And the cold, it was very cold," Sevilla added.

But he says, he had confidence that his safety harness would hold until a Yonkers firefighter scaled down the building to save him and stayed cool. Sevilla made it down first.

Even after Sevilla went to the hospital and returned home, he remained calm.

Sevilla said, "The drama that happened, it was like a dream."

And even after the drama, Sevilla says he's not afraid to go back to work.

The drama unfolded starting around 5:00 p.m. on Nepperhan Avenue in Yonkers.

The men, who were going to paint the building, became trapped 12 stories above the street when the scaffolding collapsed. They were secured by their safety belts.

"Only one of them screamed. He screamed help! By that time police started showing up," witness Dennis Richmond said.

Yonkers firefighters arrived on the scene and assembled on the roof, more than 10 stories above the men.

Fire Commissioner Anthony Pagano said that the men were secure enough to give rescuers time to develop a plan.

First, they raised a tall ladder from a fire truck at the scene, but it was about two stories too short to reach the lower man. They then proceeded with trying to reach the trapped men from the roof.

"It was very dangerous. It's a 27 story building and we're coming off the roof and coming down," Chief Roger Vitolo said.

About 45 minutes after the drama began, firefighter Mike Giroux rappelled from the roof to the man who was closer to the ground.

Pagano said "one man was a little bit more secure than the other," so the less secure man was taken down first.

"He stops just above the worker, who is on his harness, and he transfers him and secures him to his own harness," Deputy Chief John Flynn said.

Giroux secured the man to a line, then rappelled with him to the street, where he was taken off in an ambulance.

"When you get to the them, you just make them feel comfortable. You pat them on the back. I got you and everything is going to be okay," Giroux said.

About 15 minutes later, Giroux followed the same path, descending over the side of the building, to rescue the second man.

"There is also something called harness compression syndrome, which if they stayed in those harnesses too long, it becomes a life threatening condition," Flynn said.

He secured the second worker and then lowered him to the ground around 6:20 p.m.

"The second victim was a little more shaky. A little hypothermic. He didn't talk too much. We seemed to manage through and we got him down," Giroux said.

He was given oxygen and rushed by EMTs to a waiting ambulance. Pagano said there seemed to be no serious injuries.

Pagano praised Giroux but added, "It was a team effort, and we will honor them all."

Giroux praised his colleagues on the roof who kept him secure and said he was well-prepared because of his training.

"It's pretty fun. I like this stuff. This is what I thrive on," he said.

The cause of the collapse was not immediately known.

The building, which has many apartments for seniors and a senior center, is one of the tallest in Yonkers.

Federal investigators are now looking into why scaffolding collapsed.