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report from the rooftops

"We don't answer on the roof"

Published fredag 4 mars 2011 kl 13.04
"It's kind of a hidden job, you don't really notice it"
(5:33 min)
Joni Mäenpää, a snow shoveler, scaling the roofs of Stockholm. Photo: Brett Ascarelli

While many have complained about the record heavy winter that hit Sweden this year, at least a few will surely miss it as spring rolls around. The season has been a boon for workers whose job it is to keep the sidewalks safe by clearing the rooftops from snow and ice. If you've ever wondered what it's like up above, your wait is over. Brett Ascarelli reports.

Joni Mäenpää, who works with a company called Företagskonsulterna, is guiding a reporter into safety harness. They've taken the elevator as high as possible, which in this old Stockholm building happens to be floor three-and-a-half, and they've have walked up the rest of the way up to the attic.

They climb out of the hatch and make their way along a narrow catwalk on the peak of the metal rooftop, five stories up. The reporter is attached by rope to the catwalk, but grabs onto a chimney for extra stability.

Johan Thid is responsible for the work here on the roof. Using a two-way radio, he communicates with his colleague, Ted Sjödin, stationed down below to keep pedestrians and passing cars out of the way of falling snow and ice.

Meanwhile, Mäenpää, decked out in a glowing green safety suit, ventures out and shimmies slowly down the slope of the roof, using his rope to guide him.

"My main purpose is to keep Joni safe. If something happens to him, I will pull him up," says Thid, adding that the group has trained for falls at a rock-climbing facility.

Depending on the size and difficulty of the roof, the team clears between anywhere from one to four or five roofs a day. A particulary difficult and large roof could take up to two days.

"The snow is very important for us," says Thid. His company has contracts with building owners to be on call 24-hours a day for rooftop snow and ice clearing service. Nevertheless, the company earns money each time they go out on a call.

"They know they are safe that they can call us anytime they want and ask for our service, and we will help them," says Thid. As if on cue, his mobile phone rings. But he lets it continue to ring.

"We don't answer on the roof, because then I will be distracted. And if something happens to Joni, then there will be a problem," says Thid.

Once winter ends, the company stays in business by providing services like painting roofs and walls at high altitudes. "We like to work at heights. We're like children in that way," says Thid.

"It's kind of a hidden job," says Sjödin, who has been down below for the past hour or so, keeping pedestrians out of the way. "So, it's been very nice to see Stockholm from above and see what really happens."

Soon, he will switch duties with Mäenpää and shovel snow from the roof in order to keep warm.

The focus of this job is clearly safety, both for passersby and for the rooftop workers. But accidents do happen. Just a couple hours before this excursion, another snow clearer in central Stockholm fell off a roof 15 meters up. Luckily, he survived without serious injuries.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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