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Rescuers Break Glass Of 1 WTC To Save Trapped Window Washers

Unlike smaller buildings, skyscrapers generally don’t have operable windows. Why not?

Two window washers got stuck on broken scaffolding outside 1 World Trade Center today, and spent hours dangling precipitously at a 65-degree angle. Emergency workers had to cut out a window from the just-opened skyscraper to rescue the workers, who got stuck near the 68th floor around 12:45 p.m. when one of the cables that holds up the scaffolding they were working on came loose, according to CBS News.

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The incident underscored a design problem with many skyscrapers: They don’t have removable windows, like smaller buildings. So when someone gets stuck outside, the only way to get them to safety is to break through the glass. Operable windows are slowly becoming more popular in high rises in the U.S., though they have been in use in Europe for a while. However, high wind velocities near the top of supertall towers like 1 World Trade Center (the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,776 feet) make engineering even non-operable windows a challenge–under certain wind stress, window panes can pop right off the building.

This is not the first time rescuers have had to break a building’s glass to save window washers. In fact, it’s not terribly uncommon for window washers to get stuck on the job. Earlier this year, two window washers had to be rescued from the 21st floor of a downtown Manhattan tower. Last year, fire fighters cut out a window to rescue two window washers stuck outside the 45th story of the Heart Tower in Manhattan. In 2012, two window washers got stuck outside the 42nd floor of a Midtown Manhattan building, and fire fighters had to cut through two panes of glass and lower a rope down to reach the men.

Around 2:30 p.m., the 1 WTC window washers were rescued by members of the New York City fire department, who broke a window to pull them inside to safety.

For more on the life and history of the gravity-defying–and occasionally death-defying–folks who keep skyscraper windows sparkling in New York City, we suggest this story from the New Yorker.

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About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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