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World Trade Center tower window washers rescued from tilting platform

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A firefighter reaches through a cut-out window into a dangling work basket to rescue two workers from the 60th floor of 1 World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. The two window washers were trapped for more than an hour.
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Heavy fog blankets lower Manhattan in New York, including One World Trade Center, center, in this view across the Hudson River from Hoboken, N.J., Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. The National Weather Service said the fog reduced visibility to a quarter mile or less. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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This photo provided by the New York City Fire Department shows a window washer's gondola as it hangs from 1 World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Police official, John Miller, said the partially collapsed scaffolding hung at 'a 75-degree angle.' (AP Photo/New York City Fire Department)

Pittsburgh window washers watched in horror and empathy Wednesday as firefighters rescued two of their own who were stuck dangling on a tilting platform 69 stories up the newly opened One World Trade Center tower.

“It’s always a concern, but that’s the nature of our business,” said Edward Matuizek of Allegheny Window Cleaning, whose clients include the Alcoa Building, the William S. Moorhead Federal Building and the Wyndham Grand. “Managing that risk is just part of the industry we chose.”

The nightmare began on the south side of the 1,776-foot, 104-story building — the tallest in the Western Hemisphere — about 12:40 p.m. when one of the platform’s four cables abruptly developed slack, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The open-topped platform tilted sharply and swayed in the wind, leaving the workers clinging to the platform pressed against the building.

Firefighters used diamond cutters to saw through a two-layer glass window that shattered, then carefully pulled the window washers inside.

The two-hour ordeal played out in front of awe-struck New Yorkers and on live television. The accident, which officials attributed to a malfunctioning cable, happened little more than a week after workers began moving into the nation’s tallest building.

“It’s a very dangerous job,” said Ramon Castro, who washes windows in New York. Castro said he’d encountered similar situations on other buildings.

The workers had mild hypothermia but seemed otherwise OK, Nigro said. They were taken to a hospital to be checked.

James Holman, acting rescue division chief for Pittsburgh Paramedics, can’t recall any comparable situations in Western Pennsylvania, but if one were to arise, locals are ready, he said.

“All of that looks very scary, and it is, but with good communication between everyone involved, we can get someone up or down pretty quickly,” Holman said.

When local window washer Rusty Liberatore, 55, dangles 300 feet above Washington Plaza, he doesn’t think about the ice at Consol Energy Center or the traffic whooshing along Centre Avenue. He’s methodical. His life depends on it.

“You have to pay attention to what you’re doing; you have to stay focused,” he said. “And if you’re afraid of heights, you better stay at home.”

New York City firefighters prepared a backup plan, inching a second scaffold down the building.

“It was a fairly straightforward operation,” said Battalion Chief Joseph Jardin, who oversees the department’s special operations. “This is not the first time we’ve encountered this type of operation. We train. We prepare.”

Pittsburgh has many older buildings, Matuizek said.

New structures such as One World Trade Center are built with permanent cleaning installations designed for the angle of the building. In Pittsburgh, crews most often secure their equipment with existing tiebacks or hundreds of pounds in counterweights on the roof.

If a failure occurs, washers will most likely try to rescue themselves, Matuizek said.

If they can’t, Holman and building engineers assess wind speed and which windows open where. Without injury, the operation is quick and clean, he said.

“You never want that,” Matuizek said. “That’s why we check safety reports and go over our equipment every day. Everything has to be right every time.”

The New York City skyscraper, which rose from the ashes of terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, reopened last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

Reach her at 412-388-5815 or [email protected].

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