The firefighter who climbed a 12-storey crane to rescue a stranded woman in Toronto, said he was “volun-told” to do it before rushing off to play in a hockey tournament.
Fire crews responded to a report of a woman stuck on a crane around 4 a.m. Wednesday at a construction site in the Wellesley Street and Church Street area.
A woman was seen sitting atop the crane’s hook block for several hours, when fire crews and Acting Capt. Rob Wonfor, of Toronto Fire Pump 313, were dispatched to help bring her to safety.
“It was a little hairy up there,” Wonfor said. “We didn’t talk that much, we just stayed focused on the rescue. So I just wanted to make sure she was safe. She talked to me to make sure I was safe and that’s all we really said to each other and just, you know, let’s get out of this together and get the job done.”
Wonfor told reporters he was in total disbelief as to how the woman managed to climb to such a precarious spot on the crane.
“You know what, she has to tell me how she did it because she’s got to be our new training officer for high angle because it’s impressive,” he said. “I mean it was hard enough for me to go up with ropes and the harnesses and she free-climbed that — it’s incredible.”
Wonfor said emergency crews had a tough time spotting the woman, but were able to locate her with the help of binoculars in the darkness.
“The chief decided we’re going to go get her. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to move the crane properly to get it down so we said, ‘OK let’s just execute a rescue,’ so away we go,” Wonfor said, adding that carrying ropes and gear compounded the difficulty of the rescue.
“You’re focused on your job so you know, there’s nobody else coming besides us so you’ve just got to get it done.”
Wonfor, who specializes in high altitude rescues, was sent in to scale the crane boom and rappel down to the woman and managed to reach her around 8 a.m.
“We just talked, said names, stay calmed and I’ll be there and she was, ‘Yeah, great, glad to see you up here to help me,’ and it was good,” he said. “She was very calm, very calm. She made me calm actually.”
Wonfor said he didn’t speak with the woman in too much detail, but instead wanted to focus on getting her back on the ground. Both reached the ground just after 8:30 a.m., when the woman was placed in handcuffs by police. Officers later announced she is facing six counts of mischief.
“I told her ‘I’ve got to stay focused on my job so I don’t want to get distracted talking so let’s just get our ropes hooked up and let’s get down there,'” he said.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen, we actually had to use the crane operator’s experience and decide whether it was a good way to bring her down with the crane system or take our ropes so he suggested not to move the pulleys, not to move the cables, so we just took her with our ropes.”
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A police negotiator was also called in to help pacify the situation, who Wonfor said had the relaxed voice of a “late night talk show host.”
“He kept it really calm, he had that Perry Como type of that voice, right? … I was calm. He calmed me down, so he was good,” he said.
“We were having a good time up there, you’ve got to keep it light, right? If you’re not laughing, you’re crying.”
The 52-year-old Wonfor, who said he looks younger than his age because he regularly moisturizes, added he was the person Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg called on to undertake the high-risk rescue, due to his more than two decades of experience.
“I was volun-told you’re going up and so I’ve been on 22 years, so I do a lot of rope work with trees and that,” he said. “Plus I’m a bit of a monkey so they thought, ‘You’re the guy.'”
Wonfor said he was “very tired” after “dragging ropes” up the crane during the rescue operation, but said the woman promised to tell him how she managed to climb the crane in high-heeled boots.
“She’s going to tell me later, because I need to write it down because that’s how I’ll do it next time but I have no idea how she did it,” he said. “How did she get there, how did she do that? That’s what everybody wants to know — how she did it.”
Police have identified the woman involved in the incident as 23-year-old Marisa Lazo of Toronto. She was charged with six counts of public mischief interfering with property and is scheduled to appear in a Toronto court Thursday.
Lazo was taken to hospital as a precaution, and police did not provide details on how or why she is alleged to have climbed the crane.
Wonfor said the job has provided him with “very good training” in these types of situations, something Toronto Fire District Chief of Special Operations Manick Noormahamud said hundreds of firefighters undergo each year.
“At any point in time, we have over 50 people training in technical rescue in the city because we have four platoons, so we have about 200 people training in technical rescue,” Noormahamud said.
“We’re talking about high-angle, confined space, we’re talking about auto extrication, elevator rescue, water rescue, all the challenges that normal firefighters don’t respond to. So our technical rescue firefighters respond.”
Noormahamud said these types of rescues can be much more “high risk” than standard firefighter operations, which is why they take their time when assessing the situation before taking action.
“It’s not like our regular firefighting approach which means that everybody goes up and we go in fast,” he said. “We take a consistent approach in terms of ensuring that our firefighters are safe, plus ensuring that we have the person rescued properly.”
Noormahamud said there are more than 2,800 Toronto firefighters who respond to more than 110,000 calls in the city per year from 83 fire halls around the clock.
“Assume that at any point in time our firefighters will be responding to calls,” he said. “There’s always movement 24/7.”
VIDEO: Woman rescued from crane led away in handcuffs by Toronto police
When asked if Wonfor had the rest of the day off to rest, he said he was racing off to make it to a local hockey tournament to play goalie.
“I do, but we’ve got a hockey tournament. So we’ve got to cut this short, I’ve got a hockey game,” he said. “We’ve got a game at 11 so I don’t want to be late — I already missed one game. I play goal, so I’m the go-to guy … but if the Leafs want me, I’ll come back out.”
Wonfor said in his 22 years on the job he’s had to work similar rescues, but nothing like what he saw Wednesday morning.
“They climb up the middle or do something in some construction sites but not like that,” he said. “That was pretty impressive what she did.”