Steven Fleming: ‘Learn from the Past’

March 31, 2010
If you make a mistake when you are working on and around a tower, you most certainly face drastic consequences.

If you make a mistake when you are working on and around a tower, you most certainly face drastic consequences. Steven Fleming, director of training, Antenna & Tower TrainingCenter, at Safety One International, Inc., stresses everyday the necessity of fall protection and rescue for utility workers.

“Many climbers before us have given their ultimate sacrifice working on these towers,” Fleming said. “I have always stated in my classes that standards, policies and rules are ‘written in blood.’ Each part of the standards relates to a situation where a worker has been injured or killed and the standard writing committee is tasked with ‘what can we do to make sure this does not happen again.’”

Fleming feels strongly that the industry must learn from these past climbers’ mistakes and for him to share the information is “to help make sure another death is avoided by training, which is learning.”

Fleming leads the Antenna and Tower Climbing division of Safety One International in Colorado, and is currently presenting the Tower Climbing & Safety Rescue Courses in Lakewood, Colorado. Safety One's standard fall protection class is an eight-to ten-hour comprehensive fall protection course providing fall protection training, antenna and tower climbing training, or safety and rescue training. The advanced course covers specialized and advanced training needs in fall protection, climbing, safety and rescue techniques on and around towers.

“The subject of tower climbing, safety and rescue says a lot even in its words,” Fleming said. “Safety and rescue implies and requires a lot of responsibility. The climbers are not only tasked with understanding their equipment, the concept of fall protection, and climbing the tower safely, they are also required to learn how to rescue their fellow climber/friend. In the event of a rescue the students/climber will be overwhelmed with emotion and a feeling of ‘I have to do something.’ All their training must come together and the basics must be automatic and correct.”

Fleming’s perspective on training utility workers is unique because he comes from the emergency services field. He is a full-time fire captain in Ft. Collins, Colorado. He has responded to more than 12,000 actual emergency calls in 33 years in the fire department. He teaches tower climbing and safety rescue on his days off.

He takes the role of instructor seriously because of what’s at stake in tower climbing. “The consequence of making a mistake on these towers, as in emergency services, is death. The responsibilities of an instructor, especially in this business, are extreme,” Fleming said. “I take this responsibility to heart. I currently sit on several standard writing committees. I also take as many classes I can to stay current and ask a lot of questions. It is imperative to stay current. The standards change constantly.”

Fleming originally went to college to become an architect. But one nice day in April of 1976, while driving by a fire station in Fort Collins, he stopped in and got a tour. “That was it,” he said. “Thirty-four years later, and I can say I would not change a thing. Every so often I hear someone say ‘Oh, I see you have to work tomorrow.’ I am very quick to correct them ‘No…. I GET to go to work tomorrow!’ I have been saying that from Day One.”

Since then, he has discovered a fondness of teaching as well. He started teaching anything that he really liked. He taught springboard diving, skiing, and SCUBA diving. Then he said that he realized he had a true passion for technical rescue. He started a technical rescue training business in 1987, Technical Rescue Systems. He joined Safety One in 2000, and went on to teach safety and rescue “from Iceland to the Equator, from the Arctic Circle to Guam.” He also speaks at conferences and has served on several boards of directors and standards writing committees.

Fleming combines many skills into his style of teaching. He said he tries to embody the traits of a coach, mentor, motivator, entertainer, educator, and professor. “To teach adults a subject that could save their lives does not get any more important than that.”

In his spare time, he tries not to do anything that has to do with emergency services. “I have a very nice wood shop,” he said. “Building custom cabinets and furniture is a real pleasure. Golfing, fishing, bike riding -- all good.”

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