May 30, 2017
The story of Above All Tower Climbing began more than a decade ago, when a 911 call center asked firefighter paramedics Jack and Shama Ray to use their climbing skills for an emergency involving a malfunctioning antenna on a telecommunications tower. The 911 call center couldn’t find a tower crew that was available to fix the antenna and asked if the Rays could do the job. They were willing and able. Jack had received extensive training in high-angle rescue and ropes and rappelling. Shama had extensive leadership experience and had received rescue training in the emergency services. Today, Jack is director of operations for Above All Tower Climbing in Bonne Terre, Missouri, and Shama is the company’s owner and CEO.
“Jack climbed the tower with ease, as if he were born to climb towers, and he fixed the antenna in a timely professional manner,” Shama said. “The center called us back again for 911 work. Then a fire department called us, and then a radio station. We decided that this might make a good part-time business. That was more than 10 years ago.”
Shama said she and Jack started lining up what they needed for a full-time business. They assembled and trained tower crews. In August 2012, they started the business, and after four months they had so much work, they didn’t know what to do with it.
Above All Tower Climbing now does just about every kind of tower work above ground level. “We’re a turnkey company,” Shama said. “We do guy-wire replacement, plumb and tensioning; structural modifications; tower builds; civil work; tower painting and lighting; shelter installing; tree cutting; and maintenance.”
Safety Is Everything
Shama said she and Jack started out as firefighter paramedics and worked their way up. She said they work well together because they both put safety first. “Safety is one of the most important things to me, as the owner of the company,” she said. “I’m highly involved in making sure that my crews are safe and everyone comes home at night.”
Shama developed a dedicated hard-work regimen to pass the rigorous physical exams necessary to become a firefighter, despite her petite frame. “When I first became a firefighter paramedic, I weighed about 95 pounds soaking wet,” she said. “I started out as a paramedic and had leadership responsibilities, and then I decided I wanted to go into the firefighter academy.”
It wasn’t easy to become a firefighter, Shama recalled. “Before you take the firefighter exam, the physical exam, you take a test that you have to complete in seven minutes,” she said. “I trained on a Keiser sled [a simulated forcible-entry sledgehammering machine designed for fire-service training] day after day, hitting it 4 feet one way and then back the other way, to get my time down — and I practiced every day. And, when I finished, my time ended up being about 5:40.” The test simulates the use of a sledge hammer to provide ventilation or to gain entry.
Unlike her husband, Shama had little experience climbing towers. As a firefighter paramedic and chief medical officer, her role was more about leadership. She ran crews and performed teaching and training. As chief medical officer, she was in charge of the safety, training and education of the entire department. “The reason I personally got into tower climbing is because I wanted to know what my crews were going through,” Shama said. “I didn’t know I was going to like climbing.”
Shama initially intended to manage the company and its financials. But she also wanted to experience what her crews faced. Now, if crews come to her and say, “We can’t get this done,” she can reply, “Yes, you can. I’ve done it myself.” Or, on the other hand, she can say, “Yes, you’re right. It’s unsafe. You guys shouldn’t be up there. Pull the crews down.”
The first time her company conducted a training session, Shama said the employees climbed a tower, and she decided to take the training, too. “I went through the training and I loved it,” she said. So, Shama started climbing towers in addition to her management responsibilities. She said with the time it takes to manage the company today, she doesn’t climb towers as much as she used to.
With regular visits to worksites to check on the crews, Shama makes sure that safety requirements are enforced and that the work is going well. “Your crews must be accountable. You have to let them know that you are going to be enforcing the rules and that you are going to be making sure that they’re safe,” she said.
Shama said she believes safety is becoming increasingly important to the tower industry. “I’ve noticed that, from the tower owners to carriers, we are really putting an emphasis on safety,” she said. “I love to see that. I have a passion for safety. Safety has advanced so much from what it was in the old days.”
Business Is Booming
Above All Tower Climbing’s business is starting to boom, and the company is expanding. It recently purchased 27 acres of land. The company is building a facility on its new campus, expected to be completed in late 2017, only five years after Jack and Shama opened its doors. . “We’re putting on three to five more crews initially, and by the end of 2018, we are going to have about 40 crews,” Shama said. She also plans to hire full-time electrical technicians and structural engineers to perform technical work that the company now subcontracts out as needed.
Lately, Above All Tower Climbing has been performing as much tower construction as tower maintenance. “It’s about 50/50 this year,” Shama said. “We’re doing several big tower build projects this year. So far, the company has built about 40 complete towers.”
In addition to cell tower construction and maintenance, the company performs substantial 911 work, drawing on Shama and Jack’s experience in fire and emergency medical service (EMS) work. “We do really well with fire departments, EMS and police departments, and we do some other government work, too,” Shama said. The company also works on radio towers, and Shama said the company is not opposed to offering service for TV broadcasting towers, although it hasn’t yet broken into that market.
These days, Shama said customers seem to be coming to Above All Tower Climbing, so the company has less need to find customers.
“Our company believes in quality, integrity and doing things right the first time,” Shama said. “We believe you can’t cut corners. We’re different from a lot of companies out there — we care about our customers, we care about our employees and, overall, we just care about humanity. We believe in helping people in general. We come from a fire and EMS background, so our roots are in helping people and in doing things the right way.”
Another secret to Above All Tower Climbing’s success lies in its specializing in niche markets. According to Shama, not many tower service companies deal with guy-wire tensioning, installation and removal because of the danger involved. She believes her company can do that kind of work right because it’s so highly involved with training and it makes safety a number one priority.
“There’s nothing that my director of operations — Jack Ray — cannot handle when it comes to mechanics,” Shama said. “He’s not an engineer, but when it comes to engineering, he makes sure everything is done right. We complement each other in a way that just makes our company soar.”
Safety and, in particular, enforcing safety procedures, remain the tower industry’s biggest challenge, Shama said. She believes everything lines up correctly after safety steps are established and followed. “We follow all American National Standards Institute (ANSI), National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) standards and policies,” she said. “We follow what has been set in stone, basically.”
Shama said that she believes that the tower industry’s old-school, I’ve-always-done-it-this-way culture is changing. “Many wireless communications carriers and many tower owners are now enforcing safety from the top,” she said. “You have to start at the top, because if you can’t start there, it’s really hard to enforce safety at the bottom. I believe that once you enforce something from the top, it trickles down.”
Above All Tower Climbing always tries to do things the right way, Shama said, “We don’t cut corners, and we try to work with integrity,” she said. “I try to follow the Good Book. God is important to me. And I owe everything I have and everything in this company to God. I believe that in itself is making sure that we’re able to get out there and let people know who we are. Sometimes we will turn down work if we know it’s not being done with honesty, and especially if we believe things can’t be done safely.”
Mike Harrington is a freelance writer in Prairie Village, Kansas.
Shama Ray, owner and CEO of Above All Tower Climbing, said an important aspect of the tower industry that she has come to appreciate most is role played by the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE).
“NATE makes so many resources available, and they’ve just been so helpful,” she said. “I wish we had joined with them in the very beginning.”
Ray said NATE is especially helpful to smaller companies such as hers. She serves as a committee member of the Women of NATE (WON) and spoke about WON at the NATE southwest conference in Phoenix on May 3.
“Women have come forward in leaps and bounds,” Ray said. “People are starting to see that women do have a lot to offer to the tower industry. I just feel like it’s a great combination. Men and women don’t think the same. They have two different points of view to offer. And when it comes to safety, it’s very important to make sure you’ve gone over every possible scenario. You must make sure that everything is being done, and that there’s no way something can go wrong.”
May 18, 2017 —
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) has released the new Anchor Inspection/Safe to Climb Protocol document. Corrosion, an electrochemical process, returns refined steel back to its native state. A lingering question in the tower industry has been, at what point do guy anchors return to their native state? Owners, managers and field staff can now reference the Anchor Inspection/Safe to Climb Protocol document to aid them in making a “judgment call” on whether or not to climb a tower without foreknowledge on the condition of the underground anchors.
As we have seen in the past, the results of not doing anything have been and can be catastrophic. This has always been a challenging subject in our industry as we continue down the path of the reality that is competitive bidding. Fortunately, we have had many leaders in our industry working diligently for many years on this problem, but we as an association need to continue to build on the ideas and effort that they have put forth. We need to continue to bring awareness within our industry on this out-of-site and unfortunately sometimes out-of-mind issue.
CLICK HERE to view the Anchor Inspection/Safe to Climb Protocol Document.
May 11, 2017 —
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) today unveiled a commemoration declaring Thursday, May 11, 2017 as Tower Technician Appreciation Day. This day has been set aside by NATE to coincide with OSHA’s National Safety Stand-Down Week in order to pay tribute to the important work that tower technicians conduct on a daily basis to enable a mobile society.
NATE was joined by U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in honoring the work of the men and women who deploy and maintain America’s communications infrastructure.
“It’s a privilege to join NATE to congratulate and thank the dedicated men and women who work in South Dakota and around the country to build, upgrade, and maintain our nation’s communication towers and infrastructure,” said Senator Thune. “Tower erectors and technicians put in long hours and hard work, and they possess a unique set of skills that is essential to effectively deploy today’s wireless broadband network and lay the groundwork for the 5G network of the future.”
“Access to ubiquitous wireless coverage is paramount for the public safety, economic development and welfare of all Americans,” said NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “Today, NATE is honored to celebrate the communications tower industry workforce by highlighting the tireless contributions and sacrifices these men and women make in order to keep us safe, connected and prosperous.”
“This is a great day and we are thrilled to provide this well-deserved recognition to the industry’s most precious resource…the men and women who make up our workforce,” said NATE Chairman Jim Tracy, CEO of Legacy Telecommunications, Inc. in Burley, Washington.
May 4, 2017 —
News of tragedies has come in from the field with technicians dying in two separate in the tower construction incidents. They were the first fatalities of 2017, according to Wireless Estimator.
Isido Morales, 49, died and another worker was injured when a boom truck crane collapsed last week in downtown Dallas, according to the Dallas News. They had been working on a T-Mobile tower.
Earlier this week, a technician died from a 228-foot fall from a tower in Meridian, Mississippi, according to a report 16 WAPT News. He was reportedly wearing a safety harness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating.
Runyon had been working for D&K Nationwide Communications of Bristol, Connecticut, Wireless Estimator reported, which was working as a subcontractor to turfing contractor MasTec on an AT&T LTE upgrade.
Event Planned Urging Industry to Discuss Safety
The deaths will certainly be a part of the conversation as the wireless industry takes part in the annual “National Safety Stand-Down To Prevent Falls in Construction” approaching on May 8-12, which is a voluntary event for employers to talk to employees about safety sponsored by OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Center for Construction Research and Training and the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
Fatalities caused by falls from elevation continue to be a leading cause of death for construction employees, accounting for 350 of the 937 construction fatalities recorded in 2015, according the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) encourages tower services companies to set aside time during the week and plan a toolbox talk, take a break to talk about how to prevent falls and provide training for all workers.
“In past years, more than 1 million workers participated in events,” according to the NATE web site. “They have worked for public and private sector employees and small and large businesses and the event has recently expanded to include industries beyond construction.”
For more information on how to join in this year’s stand-down, access free training and education resources in English and Spanish, and receive a personalized certificate of participation, visit OSHA’s webpage at www.osha.gov.
May 2, 2017 —
Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) today announced a partnership, designed to bring new, exciting content to attendees of both CCA’s 2017 Annual Convention, taking place October 25-27 in Fort Worth, and NATE UNITE 2018, February 19-22 in Nashville. NATE will develop and sponsor a conference track at CCA’s event highlighting infrastructure innovators and opportunities, and CCA will host and sponsor a carrier track at NATE UNITE 2018 focusing on the most pressing wireless policy issues and industry trends.
CCA’s 2017 Annual Convention will celebrate the Association’s 25th anniversary – and feature extensive programming featuring technical, marketing, policy and business development opportunities for competitive carriers. NATE will sponsor and program a conference track, focused on the tower-site deployment activities associated with the post 600 MHZ Incentive Auction “Broadcast Repack” transition; enhancing safety and efficiency through the wireless infrastructure industry’s utilization of Unmanned Aerial Systems and other emerging technologies; and expanding the skills of the wireless workforce through opportunities involved with the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) nationwide certification programs.
“Competitive carriers are committed to bringing reliable mobile broadband services to everyone in North America and CCA events bring together more North American carrier executives than any other event,” said Steven K. Berry, CCA’s President and CEO. “Infrastructure is a key component of this endeavor, and CCA is delighted to partner with NATE for our fall event. The addition of a NATE-sponsored track, designed to bring together the carriers and tower executives who will drive policy changes in Washington and innovation in the field, is an exciting step in the continued evolution of our shows – and the industry.”
NATE UNITE 2018 will bring together senior decision makers in the communications tower industry. CCA will sponsor and program a half-day conference focused on regulatory issues and outline the ways the tower industry and mobile carriers can work together to drive a more competitive marketplace.
“This CCA-NATE event partnership is a win-win for the industry that will serve to unite key stakeholders from all layers of the wireless ecosystem to deliver informative and timely programming led by some of the industry’s most dynamic speakers and subject matter experts,” stated NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “NATE is thrilled to collaborate with CCA and their member companies on this dynamic partnership.”