When Rob Lichtenberger is not in the office, he’s busy scaling high-rises.
As the vice president of field operations at architecture and engineering firm CANY, Lichtenberger inspects buildings up close and personal – and hundreds of feet up in the air.
CANY performs such inspections throughout New York and New Jersey, including Newark’s Beth Israel Hospital and Jersey City’s residential high-rise at 100 Montgomery St. It could use traditional means through the use of scaffolding, but instead opts for a more comprehensive inspection technique using rope access teams that rappel down the sides of buildings to inspect exteriors.
Rather than training rock climbers to inspect buildings, CANY trains its architects and engineers to become rappelling experts. Trainees undergo a five-day program, three-tier test and up to 1,500 “rope hours.”
“During that descent, we’re basically telling a story through our photographs, looking for distress of the facade, weathering, deterioration and corrosion,” said Lichtenberger, who has been scaling high-rises for years and said he has gotten used to the jaw-dropping heights.
“Seeing these things is much different up close,” he said. “We’re using this as a means to get to our job. Whether you’re 15 feet off the ground or 130 feet, you have the training and focus to do your job. Being on the outside of a building is just something that you have to do.”
CANY Vice President Thomas Seminara has been scaling buildings for almost 18 years.
“It offers us and the owner a unique perspective and approach to evaluating a building facade,” Seminara said. “The owner benefits from our ability to perform multiple drops in a day as compared to a single traditional scaffold drop for often the same or less expense. This translates to acquiring more information about a building, which allows us to prepare more accurate documents.”
These documents can keep projects on schedule and on budget, according to Seminara.
“Getting up close to a building facade is essential in understanding what the problems are, how advanced they may be and what is the proper way to repair,” he said. “Simply looking from afar with binoculars and camera equipment is not a good enough view for us. There are times that deficiencies are hidden or obscured due to viewing angles that can only be circumvented by being up close. The more accurate all these pieces are, the better the client will be served by the contractors who are bidding on and eventually executing the repairs.”
CANY employees aren’t required to scale buildings, he added.
“Usually people are either excited to try or they say ‘no way,’” said Seminara. “There is still a level of fear and respect that should be felt [when scaling a high-rise].
“Without that, people tend to get complacent and that is the worst place for an individual,” he continued. “That mindset of fearlessness and complacent behavior could result in human error. We as a company meet prior to every project to express and reinforce the importance of the task at hand, respect the level of training we have undergone, have foresight in planning each inspection as an exercise that will mitigate any potential obstacle and remind all involved that this is serious business – even if it is a lot fun to be on a rope looking down on the world below.”
“You have a respect for the height, you have the knowledge and you have faith in the equipment,” he said. “Since doing this I’ve gone skydiving and rock climbing; it’s opened up my eyes to new experiences. It’s a lot better than sitting behind a desk all day. It’s just another day at the office.”