The Statue of Liberty’s crown reopens to the public on July 4. Soon somebody schlepping up those 354 steps will have the dubious distinction of being the first visitor to make a personal acquaintance with Lady Liberty’s RAT.
Assuming that the lucky holders of Statue of Liberty crown tickets are a representative cross section of the American public, about one-third will be significantly overweight or obese. Some of those ascending the narrow, double-helix staircase will be individuals who, because of poor muscle tone, illness, infirmity, advanced age, or other factors could not be considered physically fit by any reasonable stretch of the imagination. There will be some claustrophobics, some klutzes, and some people who, for reasons we can’t fathom, do amazingly stupid things.
The Park Service is implementing a set of rules that should minimize problems. Visitors must be able to climb and descend the stairs without assistance. They will be reminded that the statue is cramped, and that it is often much hotter than the outside temperature. (Crown visits will be suspended when the outside temperature reaches 90 degrees.) Rangers will escort visitors up the stairs in groups of 20, and no more than ten visitors at a time will be allowed in the crown. About three groups per hour will be allowed to ascend to the crown, meaning that about 240 visitors will be able to visit the crown each day.
Human frailties and Murphy's Law being what they are, it won’t be too long before somebody making their way up or down those stairs will come to a dead stop. They’ll be too exhausted to move, too afraid to move, too injured to move, or too something-or-other else to move. No doubt there will eventually even be somebody who dies on those stairs. That’s why Lady Liberty has a RAT.
Lady Liberty’s rope access team (RAT) is an emergency response team that has been specially trained and equipped to perform rescue operations on Lady Liberty’s stairs. When somebody gets stuck on the stairs, they’ll be there in a hurry. That’s because there are 18 RAT members assigned to the Statue of Liberty, and four to six will be on the island at any given time.
These are good people, folks, and they really know what they are doing. The team members include emergency services unit staff, interpretive rangers with first responder certification, and Park Police SWAT members. RAT members haven’t just had technical rope training. They also have medical first responder certification (or better) and have had advanced training for dealing with various life-threatening situations. Like the TV commercial says, “You’re in good hands.”
There are two basic kinds of rescues off those stairs. If possible, the individual needing assistance will be transported down the stairs to safety and (if needed) medical care. That’s called a “steep angle” rescue, and it’s the one you want to do if you have a choice. If necessary, the RAT rescue will be a “high angle” operation, which requires passing the individual over the railings to be lowered through the staue's superstructure.
If the thought of being involved in a high angle rescue off Lady Liberty’s stairs doesn’t make your palms sweat, you are a better man than I am.
Postscript: Good weather is expected for the big event. If you'd like twitter feed related to Statue of Liberty July 4th ceremonies and the reopening of the Lady Liberty crown, visit this site. There will also be a live feed from Good Morning America.