Like many Torontonians, Ivan Kristoff wanted to drop Mel Lastman out of a helicopter.
“His staff thought that wasn’t a good idea, though” said Kristoff. So he had to settle for rappelling down a rope from a hovering helicopter, picking Lastman up, depositing the mayor on a rocket-red motorcycle, and speeding him to safety. The original plan-and it would have been a world record-was to take the mayor up with him so they could rappel together onto the waiting souped-up Yamaha. C’est la vie.
Kristoff is the brains and brawn behind Eiger Rope Access Work Inc., his company that goes places other companies can’t.
“It specializes in inaccessible places,” he said, such as perilously narrow ledges on the sides of buildings, rough terrain where ground vehicles couldn’t move fast enough, and, in one case, the underside of the SkyDome.
His stunt with Mel Lastman in September was a demonstration of how Kristoff works; he showed off his skills to participants in the mayor’s annual charity golf tournament. But Kristoff finally got his wish to hoist a city official skyward in October when he traveled to his native Bulgaria: he hooked Daniela Ryseva, a mayoral candidate in the city of Shumen, onto his ropes and hauled her up the side of a building.
“To showcase that she is braver than George W. Bush,” he laughed.
He started working with ropes as an extension of his normal recreational activities at home in Bulgaria, “parasailing, skydiving, mountaineering, you know,” he said. “I started working with ropes with my business, Eiger. I came to Toronto for the high-rise buildings.”
“Mechanical engineering is my background,” he said, tapping on the screen of his bulletproof laptop computer (on loan from the US military so he can test how well it holds up to his abuse). “The traditional job is to go in,”-such as on the side of a high-rise condo-and fix the problem. But what I do is go in and get the details on what the problem is, and so prevent problems later.”
Kristoff, who studies philosophy and psychology here at U of T, wanted to do one of his trademark helicopter demonstrations during halftime of the Oct. 4 Homecoming football game. But it couldn’t happen.
“His enthusiasm is contagious,” said Jennifer Jones, director of communications for the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, “but the cost and the liability were just out of our reach. We had only about a week to prepare.
“Helicopters are expensive,” she added.
But the demonstration was just part of Kristoff’s plan. If he has his way, U of T will have its own Volunteer Aerial Rescue Team that will train to carry out difficult rescues quickly. He says there’s a clear need for such a service, not just at U of T, but for Toronto as a whole.
“911 is limited as to emergency response,” he explained. “There have been cases where they have refused to engage in emergency situations because it would endanger the safety of their people. When it comes to air rescue, they have no experience that can match ours.” He cites the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an example: “We could have saved lives.”
But does U of T really need such a team? Kristoff agrees that maybe we never will. But that’s no excuse for being unprepared.
“It’s not a problem until it happens,” he said. “There haven’t been accidents, so they haven’t spent the money on an emergency response team.” And he’s feeling frustrated because the faculty is moving slowly on his proposal.
“This is in the very junior stages right now,” said Jones. “It will take a while to know what’s going on. [Ivan] pointed out to us that in the wake of 9/11 it’s something we need to think about.”
“I’ve worked so long on this rescue team,” said Kristoff. “It’s taken so long. I’ve done the hard work. I’d like U of T to become the source of this project. It has the reputation and it has the buildings-why not use them?”
Until the rescue team takes to the ropes, Kristoff has more than enough on his plate. “My work is so specialized, I usually get called when no one else can do it,” he said. “I’m selective with my clients.”
But he’s not in it for the money.
“It feels nice to go to sleep doing something positive for society,” he said. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. My idea of fun is hanging on the ropes.
“I feel at home being in the air.”