The most danger workplace on Earth!

Get to the HEART of the Matter

By Ken Shular, May, The Twon Crier, 2000

In 1993, four men, while working on the SkyWay Bridge in St. Catherines, plunged to their deaths after a swing stage collapsed. Two of the men immediately fell to the ground below while the other two managed to hold on for about 24 minutes, before they too fell. Тthe problem had been the fire department did not have the training nor equipment to attempt a high rise rescue.

With more than 12,000 high-rise buildings, and growing, across Ontario there is no specially-trained urban high-rise rope rescue teams to respond efficiently to emergency in inaccessible places.

North York resident Ivan Kristoff wants to change that, “I’ve been involved in the search and rescue profession for most of my life. It is my passion.” the 32 -year- mechanical engineer technician says. ‘I have been rescued myself so I know what is like to hang on a rope and have your life on the line and I look at it as an opportunity to provide a service that will save lives.”

With that in mind, Kristoff has set out to create the а High-rise Emergency Aerial Response team (HEART) – a volunteer group that would expand upon the emergency services provided by the fire and police departments in the GTA while offering property managers and developers a tool that would, in the end, provide a safer work environment in which to work.

“I want the best men, the best equipment, the best protocol.”

Coincidentally, Kristoff came to Canada in 1993, bringing with him the skills he honed with mountain search and rescue teams in his native Bulgaria. Not only are these types of teams common throughout the Alps, he says, but also, he notes, high-rise rescue teams are predominant in many European cities, especially in France. “I was just amazed when I first came here. I couldn’t believe, Canada with its urban environment, they don’t have something like this,” he says.

Those skills were and asset the  Canadian government sought when it asked Kristoff, shortly after his arrival here, to sit on Ministry of Labour task force that looked at establishing safety guidelines for high-rise window washers.

Following that, Kristoff was instrumental in creating the Canadian Rescue Emergency Service team (CREST) which operates similarly to mountain search and rescue teams in Europe. The service boasts 70 members today, on of which is Kristoff himself.

“So then I thought we needed a high-rise emergency response team, particularly in this area where there are so many tall buildings.”

Kristoff, who operates Eiger Rope Access Work Inc. – his independent mechanical engineering firm – has extended it now to include HEART. Eiger has access to a twin engine helicopter for aerial operations and his team consists of a diver, a doctor, a paramedic, two rope technicians and two pilots. The group trains constantly and puts on demonstrations throughout the GTA at trade shows to showcase its efforts.

Chief among Kristoff’s goals is to be recognized within the 911 emergency network to further extend the services provided by police and fire departments, to develop a partnership with property management firms and to secure sponsors top help with funding for equipment and training.

“I want to keep this strictly volunteer, because you have to understand, the better the equipment you have, the better the job is, so if we could get sponsors that would be great.”

Not only would it provide a necessary service, but it allow members of HEART to develop technically innovative concepts and advanced skills on the use of high-tech communications while developing new equipment. That’s what Kristoff plans to do later this year, when he test new equipment and techniques he designed, in an attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

He plans to climb down a rope, suspended 2,000 feet from a helicopter to test his new designs, while putting the methods and actions of heart into the spotlight.

Photo: Ivan Kristoff and colleague Stefan Stefanov rappel down a rope strung across a downtown building as part of their training for a new high-rise rescue team Kristoff is hoping to get off the ground.