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The Path is Quicker With a Bigfoot: How I got into a Towercrane.

After Twenty years and my third major back injury operating Garbage Trucks I knew it was time to make a career change! I’d always been interested in Cranework, and I had imagined running a Crane would prove to be a fun and challenging and lucrative occupation. While I was recovering from a Herniated disc in my neck I began my search on the internet to get some more info on how I could get started.

I actually had two options in mind when I began my search… either a path leading me into the giant 180 tonne Mobile Cranes or climbing up towards a seat in a Towercrane. After reading various posts on how others got into either Position and weighing the pros and cons of both options, it didn’t make it any easier to decide where I wanted to end up or which path had the best employability. I did know that I wanted to take some training to skip the time spent in entry level positions. I eventually found my answer after a search for different schools in the Metro Vancouver area led me to BigFoot Crane Services in Abbotsford. Bigfoot has an Academy that offers Training in Mobile Stiff Boom (Class 3 w/air Truck) and Self Erect Tower Crane. I spoke with Ralf Notheis over the phone, and decided to drive out and check out their set up.

Bigfoots’ site is huge. They have a brand new dedicated classroom above their loading bay and maintenance shop where they teach the theory. The Practical is taught in one of two yards. Their first yard is well organized and has two Self Erect Towercranes set up at either end which are used to move around their stock of Cranes available for rent or sale.This is where they teach the basics of operating SE Towercranes using a hand held remote control. They have access to another massive yard behind this one. This yard is owned by Eagle West Crane and they provide a Truck for the 40 Tonne Stiff Boom Course, and an Experienced Operator. After a quick tour and a discussion with Ralf about the industry I decided to take a combo course so my options will always be open.

Full Disclosure… the school isn’t cheap! But after crunching some numbers comparing the high earning potential you have with these tickets under your belt, it is clearly well worth the money spent. It’s an investment in your immediate earning potential. I spent far more on a student loan which qualified me for 40-60k/year job at best and took 4 years to complete! With this in mind the BigFoot Crane Academy is a no brainer. After a search of Crane Operators average annual salaries I was sold; With operators earning an average of $62,000/yr and earn as much as $48/hr as you gain experience and move into bigger machines. Bigfoot was able to combo up the courses at a reduced rate as they overlapped on some theory and I was starting classes about 2 months after that first phone call.

First up, I did the Theory component needed for running a 40 tonne and under mobile stiff boom crane. The math is pretty simple and if you have brushed up on your math before you start this theory part it will go quickly. If you struggle with basic division and geometry then I’d recommend having someone help you get up to speed before you start the course. Ralf taught the theory portion. He is a good teacher, and has a lot of experience as an operator. He can draw from real life scenarios to help you better understand the importance of what you are learning. These trucks are lifting heavy loads and if you have missed something during your lift planning it is easy for things to go sideways… literally! There is a Rigging component included in the course as well, which is easy, but also extremely important to know inside and out, as you want to eleminate any room for error while rigging your loads as about half the accidents in crane work is due to bad rigging or worn out and damaged slings. After you’ve passed a few tests it’s on to the Practical component where you get some hands on experience setting up and operating a mobile crane. I was taught by Stan of Eagle West Cranes. He has a long history operating these cranes, and is just about the most patient teacher I’ve ever had. He knows what your doing wrong and gives you tips along the way to make sure your picking up good habits right from the start. If you listen up and focus you’ll have a quick proper set up of the truck and be multi functioning controls and dropping the chains on target in no time. You are given enough days Operating to get to the skill level needed to pass the Fulford Accredited Level A test on the final day of the course.

After I had earned my Level A Mobile ticket, I moved on to the Self Erect Towercranes. A quick section of theory, specific to Self Erect Towercranes, was taught as I had covered 90% of what I needed to know during the Mobile portion. After completing some tests I was onto the practical component which was done in the BigFoot Yard. This section was taught my a couple different technicians who actually fix, build and set up these Towercranes. Because of their backgrounds as techs, their understanding of these machines is deep and well rooted. You are brought through the Pre Inspection of the Crane itself and all attached components, and move onto learn how to test all the Cranes safety limits before you can fly some loads. Maybe it was because I had gotten used to catching the swing of loads as you move them during the Mobile section, but I found I learned the basics of Operating these Self Erects in a controlled manner very quickly. Unfortunately Operating these machines had me spotting my block far to often than my herniated disc in my neck could accommodate. My neck got worse the longer I operated so I knew that this job was not a realistic one considering my injury. I bought some ridiculous looking rock climbing glasses that allowed me to look through a prism to see my load, chains and block to help me finish the course and I was able to get my Level A ticket.

The best laid plans can come apart when you least expect, and with my recent discovery that I couldn’t look up for long periods of time it was clear that both these tickets were useless for me. So I set my sights on looking down. I began applying at every company that had a need for a Towercrane Operator hoping that my Level A Self Erect Ticket could help open some doors. A few companies wouldn’t give me a shot up top until I had a successful project or two completed on the ground running the smaller Self Erects. I kept applying and was given a job offer by Contech to operate a Towercrane on a smaller job in West Vancouver. I was offered two more Towercrane Operator positions on the same day!

If you are someone who is thinking of starting a career operating cranes I would strongly urge you to go for it. If you can’t afford the school or secure a loan to cover the costs there are positions that will lead you into this line of work if your willing to put in the time. As far as I’m concerned I got where I am because of the great training I received at BigFoot. It gave me the confidence needed to Operate these machines in a safe and controlled manner. As of this post I’ve gotten 333 hours of Operating time and can tell you this is the best job I’ve ever had!

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