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They build and maintain power lines that sweep across the landscape. Arteries that pump electrical life to our cities and towns. They’re taken for granted when the weather’s good, and we anxiously await their help when it’s not. They are electrical contractors and linemen of the NECA-IBEWA team.
But over the past few years one team in particular from O'Connell Electric and IBEW Local 1249 has developed a “side specialty” and they’re at it again. General Foreman Randy Fletcher…

Randy Fletcher, General Foreman for O'Connell Electric:
Let me tell you what’s going to happen here. Nik Wallenda is going to start out here on the ground. He’s going to climb up this tower. All the way up in an elevator until he gets to the top. [And] then he’s going to go from the Marina City West Tower and he’s going to go all the way to the Leo Burnett Building, and it’s going to be all up hill. It’s about 80 foot difference in elevation. When he gets onto this side on the Leo Burnett, he’s going to come down Leo Burnett. [And] when he gets down there, he’s going to walk across the bridge get back into the West Tower building. [And] go all the way back up to the top again, where he is going to put on a blindfold and go from the west tower to the east tower blindfolded. [And] then when he gets done, he’s going to come back down. [And] that will be his event, and our event is to put the wire up for him.

For this collection of NECA and IBEW pros, this even is a situation of “Been There Done That.”
They hung the wire for Nik Wallenda across The Niagara Falls when the King of The High Wire performed in front of thousands of on-lookers in 2012. And, they hung the wire across the spectacular isolation of the Grand Canyon last year.

You could really say this job is the same…but it’s different.

Michael Parkes Manager, Power Division, O'Connell Electric:
Different pulling equipment. We don’t have the same pulling equipment. It’s a much smaller scale, and it’s in an urban environment. Most of the other…the two other…the Grand Canyon was remote, no one around. This, we've got building and windows and people all over the place and, you know, things we have to deal with.

Randy Fletcher, General Forman for O’Connell Electric:
It started out with guys that we work with every day. Guys that are on different projects that have different skillsets that can do anything that needs to be done.

Dominic Giarratano, Host:
Unlike with other walks where helicopters, huge cranes and tensioners were used to pull the wire across the expanse….this time, for walk number one, the wire was laid out on the Dearborn Street bridge, and then lifted into place 600 feet above the river below.

To accomplish it, the work had to be done in the wee hours of the night.

After a strategy session with Nik Wallenda, his team and the O’Connell crew, the Chicago Police closed down the area. Then, the guys used super tuggers which they had mounted atop both the Marina City West Building and the Leo Burnett Building – and rope – To slowly hoist the wire into place. While this was going on, crews on the ground used the guide wires – which were already attached – to pull the main wire clear of any obstructions on the way up.

Mike Troffer, Wallenda Team Engineer:
We needed to engage the services of some organization that had the capability to deal with very large long span wire rope, and found O'Connell Electric. That’s a bunch of people that doesn't have “Quit” in their vocabulary. They can figure almost anything out. They can solve problems that nobody foresaw.

Unlike the Niagara Falls and Grand Canyon Walks, in which the local 1249 guys hung pendulums to help keep the wire form swaying, this time 36 guide wires were positioned across the main wire and fastened to Mother Earth…All along the banks of the river.

Nik Wallenda, “King of the High Wire”:
When we walked over Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls at first there was nowhere to use a guide wire. There was nowhere to put one, so we decided we were going to use these pendulums. Same thing with the Grand Canyon. By the time we went that low, the cables we would have to use would be so big. A 2-inch cable would have turned into a 5-inch cable. It just didn’t make sense, it was just impossible. So, we had to use pendulums instead. Now, this is more traditional here in Chicago walking across these skyscrapers. We were able to stabilize the wire, the way that my family has for generations. Which, in the end makes it much safer for me. Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls that cable was moving quite a bit. Those pendulums did slow it down, but still they began to rock. This cable should be really solid under my feet and not go anywhere.

While the crews on the ground, and on top of the building cooperated to get the wire secured into place, the weather did not. A storm front blew into the area, and man did it ever!

Working atop a Chicago high rise well past 3 in the morning in winds that clocked at more than 60 miles an hour…the crew worked while temperatures tumbled, generally making life miserable.

Foreman Randy Fletcher, at one point, ordered everyone inside where they took a break from a very angry mother nature. But by sunup, next morning, Wallenda’s wire was in place. This time around, one end was pinned atop the Marina City West Building, where he’d begin his walk. The other was secured around a 30 inch beam that supported the Leo Burnett Building’s cooling system on it’s roof.

Nik Wallenda, “King of the High Wire”:
Wire one looks great. I just got a picture from my lead engineer, and the wire looks incredible. They said it’s extremely sturdy. The guys worked all through the night last night, I admire them for all their hard work – working through the evening, and working through some rough weather too. You know, these guys are amazing. These guys from O’Connell and from the IBEW-NECA, these guys are the ones that have to go out there when we don’t have power. They are the ones that go into that horrendous weather and fix those power lines. So, I admire them a lot for that. And, they had to deal with a lot of that last night putting up the wire. Those guys from O’Connell, I’ve got a great relationship with them. I trust those guys with my life. This is the third time, in the largest events that I have ever been involved in, they have rigged that cable. So, there is definitely a bond between me and them. There’s definitely a trust thing. I have to trust those guys. And I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, I’m completely confident. I was able to go to my room and go to sleep last night while that wire was being rigged. Very seldom in my career, other than when they’re rigging, do I go to bed and go to sleep while they’re rigging.

Dominic Giarratano, Host:
So, after this wire was secured and tensioned, the work for NECA-IBEW team still wasn’t done. There was the matter of the second wire that needed to go up as well, and for that section, Nik would walk across blindfolded.

Wire number two would cross a shorter expense, but that didn’t mean it was any less involved. That’s because the main wire on which Nik would walk, and the wires that would anchor onto both buildings, and the sway guides that had to attach from the wire to the anchor wires all had to come across at the same time.

Complicating that situation even further was the fact that the location of the anchor wires, the four places where they would be secured to Marina Towers East and West had changed the morning of the install.

Nothing like a little math with someone’s life on the line, to get an IBEW lineman’s brain kicked into high gear in the morning.

Randy Fletcher, General Foreman for O'Connell Electric:
Well, we wound up having to make a bridge…a rope bridge, and we wound up with main walk cable and two anchor cables below that, roughly 15 or 18 feet whatever it is. We had to space that equally so that when they start pulling tension on the cable to keep it from swaying, it will be all even and steady and there won’t be any swaying and bouncing and rolling.

As the system of wires worked it’s way across, it looked more like a bungled Christmas tree lighting job than any part of high wire act. But by days end, it all came together.

Dominic Giarratano, Host: When the work on this wire was done, it was easy to see and appreciate all the thought and effort that went into it all. Nik walks on top of the wire, and it’s held together and in place by the others. It’s really the same approach to any suspension bridge.

This time around, the structures of both Marina City East and West buildings would anchor the line, or bridge. Basically, matching slings run around the base of each tower were used to secure wire.

Then, all that was left was bringing the wire to the proper tension desired by the Wallenda Team.
Randy Fletcher, General Foreman for O'Connell Electric; We’re at 74 60 right now.

Finally, after months of preparation and five days of actual installation, O'Connell Electric and the crew from Local 1249 retreated to the background. It was show time.

Nik Wallenda, “King of the High Wire”: There’s a lot of firsts. It’s the first time that I’ve ever walked up a 15 degree incline from one skyscraper to the other. It’s the highest skyscraper my family has ever walked in the history over 200 years in our family. I am going to be walking a second portion of that wire which is the first time I’ve ever walked two different wires in one setting like this…one time. Which I will be doing the second part blindfolded. So, there are a lot of firsts.

Randy Fletcher, General Forman for O’Connell Electric:
We watch him do his job, as he’s been watching and his crew has been watching us do our job. We have excellent training from NECA and IBEW, and he has his training that he does day after day. So, with everything put together, we have a good event and its good entertainment.

Then after two jaw dropping, heart pounding trips across the Chicago Skyline, it was all over. Another couple of Nik Wallenda records in the books. And another successful, if unusual, accomplishment by the NECA-IBEW team.

Michael Parkes Manager, Power Division, O’Connell Electric:
We are happy to do it again. I mean, he’s becoming a regular client of ours. It seems to be a yearly gig for us, so it’s fun.

Up next for O’Connell Electric and the crew from Local 1249, they’re off to the US-Canada border to dismantle this old tower at the piece bridge from Buffalo to Port Erie, Ontario. No crowds. No high-rises. No network TV crews. Just them, and their work.

With special and heartfelt thanks to General Foreman Randy Fletcher and each and every member of his crew, this is Dominic Giarranto for Electric TV.

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