The Amazing Spider Dan
City scaler takes rescue efforts to a new level
May 15, 2008 7:35 AM
He was attracted to climbing as a twenty year old during a hike on Mount Washington when he witnessed a climber scaling a nearby mountain. He watched as the climber slipped from the edge of the rock and fell for thirty agonizing feet until his rope caught him in mid-air. The climber was unharmed and began laughing hysterically. “That looks badass,” Goodwin thought. “I would love to try that.”
He made his first climb soon after on an ocean wall in Maine. Goodwin thinks San Francisco is the best place to introduce his act because he says the city is “more progressive, more open-mined, and more willing to look at the reality of things” than most metropolitan cities. He says firefighters haven’t evolved with the growth of America’s skylines. “Most of the fire departments are still old school. They think that you need to fight a fire by the ground and charge up the stairs and go floor by floor. But the rules have changed. We’re no longer dealing with twenty to thirty-story skyscrapers. They’re only getting taller.”
Few are paying attention to Goodwin’s unconventional approach but he hopes SkyscraperMan, the book he plans to release this fall, will give him an authority on the subject. The book includes a foreword by Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman. “Its goal is admirable, its purpose clear, its need painfully apparent,” Lee says of Goodwin’s Skyscraper Defense Act. Despite the lack of attention he is getting now, Goodwin says the government has asked for his help in the past. “I was contacted by the special forces before nine-one-one to train their guys how to climb the World Trade Center,” he explains. When Goodwin asked why they needed the training, the officials told him it was a matter of national security, but he eventually convinced them to put him in the loop. “Our intelligence has indicated that terrorists plan to attack the World Trade Center,” an official told him in 2000. “I know for a fact they knew,” Goodwin says of the tragic attack that claimed 2, 973 lives. Goodwin never got the chance to train the military and was placed outside the government’s plans after George Bush came into power. “All of a sudden there was this wall of secrecy,” he says.
Still, Goodwin doesn’t want to waste time pointing his finger. “I feel that my focus is not to go around and blame people and accuse people—I’ll call it how it is—but I feel that I have a lot more to offer.” Goodwin’s act calls for a “Skyscraper Defense Department” within Homeland Security and introduces technological solutions for saving people in towering structures. One idea is having trucks with mounted hydraulic platforms capable of reaching two hundred and thirty feet into the air. Another is to have evacuation modules similar to express elevators that would be deployed from the ground, helicopters, and roofs.
Lieutenant Edward Ghilardi of the San Francisco Fire Department likes the ideas but isn’t sure if they will all be realistic. “The gondola thing, it sounds good, but the bad thing is how do you fly helicopters in the city in such a tight area?” he asks. He thinks trucks with mounted platforms could help his department greatly as long as the vehicles are able to maneuver quickly through the city.
The platforms would be capable of reaching nearly eighteen stories high, improving the seven stories that ladders on San Francisco fire trucks reach. Goodwin wants buildings vulnerable to terrorist attacks to add “refuge areas” and “egress stations” that would allow easy evacuations for teams rescuing people. He won’t reveal which buildings are in terrorist’s crosshairs but promises to do so in his book. He implies the next attack could be in San Francisco and says bridges could be destroyed as well. “The Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge are prime targets,” he says. “Most likely they will be taken out when the next attack occurs because, as everyone knows, you take out the bridges along with a few of the tallest skyscrapers and the Pacific Stock Exchange, and you’ve shut down the West Coast.”
Goodwin envisions future skyscrapers built with a host of other structural changes, including wider staircases, hardened elevator shafts, evacuation modules, roof helicopter pads, and anti-aircraft/missile systems. He believes the September 11 attacks proved that in-building defense systems are necessary and fears as the country falls deeper into inflation and transitions into new leadership, a similar attack is imminent. “This country is becoming extremely vulnerable,” he says. “You look at history and see how most of the greatest attacks occurred when the economy was faltering.” Goodwin says that if the Skyscraper Act was in effect prior to the World Trade Center attack, the outcome could have been very different. “I will prove in the book that we could have rescued all of the people, we could have put out the fire, and if we had done that, the World Trade Centers would still be standing.”
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