Rope Access Techs Ascend Great Heights To Fix Tall Structures

By Annika Cline
Published: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 3:57pm
Updated: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 9:32am
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Casey Gilmore practices a technique to avoid obstacles while on a job.
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Technicians practice at Abseilon USA by hanging from the ceiling.

This weekend maybe you’re planning on taking a road trip around the state to get out of the heat. As you’re crossing bridges along the highway, you probably don’t think that someone might be under them.

Some people are familiar with the underside of bridges, and the rooftops of skyscrapers. They’re called rope access technicians, and they go to great heights to fix, clean, and maintain structures.

Mike Duran and Casey Gilmore gear up like they’re about to go rock climbing.

“We have synthetic slings, we have wire slings,” Duran said.

They also have lots of carabiners. This day they’re not going too far, only about 10 feet off the ground. This is a training day at Abseilon USA headquarters in Deer Valley, and Duran and Gilmore hang from the ceiling. This is where new technicians start, to get comfortable hanging and climbing on ropes.

Once they get the hang of it and a technician is certified, it’s off to work — at 40 feet, 400 feet and even higher.

Duran was the first technician to go under the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon, a glass bridge that extends over the edge. Visitors can walk on it to look down into the canyon. Duran was tasked with cleaning it.

“I was so hyped up all day long until the moment of truth,” Duran said.

The moment when Duran was faced with the 4,000-foot distance between the Skywalk and the bottom of the canyon. It was the highest he had ever worked.

“I get to the edge and it’s like woo, everything goes quiet.”

Then he stepped over the edge.

“Take a deep breath. You’re there. Let’s go to work.”

Duran’s been doing rope access work for about six years now, and he said a lot of people aren’t really familiar with it. The techs typically get called in as a last resort.

“They’ll say you know, we can’t get in there with a crane, we can’t get in there with a lift, we can’t get in there with a stage, we can’t get in there with scaffolding. We need you guys to get us there,” Duran said.

Abseilon CEO Ken Piposar said it’s becoming more well-known. The company’s next job is for Arizona Department of Transportation to work on some bridges without closing the freeway. Piposar said it’s a change from what this type of work used to look like.

“They used snooper trucks to reach under the bridge and do their inspections, but with us we can rig it up very quickly and safely access the area, do our work and get out without anyone knowing,” Piposar said.

The number of technicians is climbing, according to the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT). That’s one of the organizations that certifies technicians, including those at Abseilon. Ten years ago, just under 200 people got a SPRAT certification. Last year, more than 2,000 people did.

“A lot of people are looking to enter this field as a career,” Piposar said. “So we’ve started doing training at our facility and offer SPRAT certification training for those that want to enter this type of industry.”

That’s allowed Abseilon to do more jobs around the country, contracting the technicians they’ve trained. They’ve hung above the Space Shuttle Atlantis in the Kennedy Space Center, and been on top of multiple casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

“We’ve changed the lightbulbs at the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel,” Piposar said.

And how many rope access technicians does it take to change a light bulb in the Eiffel Tower?


One to change the bulb, and one on standby for safety, of course. 

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