From where I sit, doing my job I get to see some amazing views. But one slip at the wrong time and I could fall... unfortunately to my death. Every safety precaution is taken, of course, but when you’re 60 metres above the ground, climbing a tower while building it at the same time, there is always going to be a certain level of risk involved.
Let me try and paint a picture for you of my latest mission installing towers in Côte d'Ivoire.
You’re 27 metres in the air, suspended from a piece of rope, standing on a triangular tower that is only 30cm wide on each side. Sections of the tower, which have already been installed, are kept steady by guide wires which are attached to the section and the ground below. Each section is three metres high and the guide wires are installed every six metres up the tower. The last guide wire is three metres down and now there is another three metre, 60 kilogram section of tower on its way up for you to install.
The whole tower is shaking from the swinging load below. You’re hanging there hoping all the equipment used to lift this 60 kilogram section holds and the shaking doesn’t cripple the tower. You know what you need to do to make sure you stay attached to the tower but if the tower breaks, not even wings would help you.
So the section makes its 27 metre climb from the guys on the ground with you still perched on the top. You swing a bit from the section hitting the tower on the way up, but that’s normal. The guys pull the section up using a pulley you installed earlier on a pole attached to the outside of the last section. It’s installed slightly higher so you can handle the next section, manoeuvring above the last section, and put it into place.
The section finally arrives and you carefully put it into place. You bolt everything together as quickly and as tightly as possible, and then you have to climb it and get ready to install the next section. You are now six metres above the last guide wire support and, luckily, the six little bolts that you rely on for your life are holding steady...
Now you need to disconnect the pole with the pulley, and the 60 metres of rope attached to it (which can get quite heavy), and move it up above the next section. All the while still hanging and relying on your rope to support you as most of the time your hands are busy working, rather than following your instinct to hold on.
While you are doing this, the guys on the ground are getting the supports ready to pull up. The tower is shaking and moving with every little pump. Finally the first guide wire comes up (seems to always take forever). You attach it to the tower and hope the guys down the bottom get it tight ASAP. There are two more guide wires to go and then you feel a little safer. After you have repeated this whole process ten times, getting higher and higher, you have to then install the rest of the equipment - antennas, brackets, lights, lighting arrestors and cable.
If your guys on the ground are quick, you will be up the tower hanging from your rope and uncomfortable harness for at least 14 hours. Hopefully by the end of a couple of days, if you have that much time, you have your tower up and antennas with cables ready to be used for the inter-agency radio room.
This is what we did in Man and Bouake in Côte d'Ivoire. The country is just coming out of conflict and the villages around the place are still empty. Many people are still living in the jungle because they are afraid the fighting will start again and they are too scared to return to the towns.
So this is part of my job here in Côte d'Ivoire. Once the rest of my job is complete, it will mean that the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) radio rooms will be up and running. The installation in Man is now complete and I’m half way through Bouake.
UN agencies and NGOs in these towns will then have a radio network for security in the field. They will use this network to report back to base, with location and situation information, and be in constant contact with their colleagues. The towers and equipment we put in place will provide the coverage needed to achieve this.