The world now can see the ladder Danny Drozd has climbed in his 13 years as an ironworker—it leads to the very top of the John Hancock building.
Last Friday, ironworker Drozd strapped a GoPro camera to his head as he prepped the Hancock's west antenna to be partially dismantled. After climbing two sets of ladders about 350 feet above the roof of the city's fourth-tallest building, he started recording the vertigo-inducing point-of-view footage. After posting it on YouTube, the video has been watched more than 90,000 times.
"I don't think most people know what it means to be an ironworker," the 31-year-old South Loop resident said in an interview Wednesday to explain why he shot the footage. "It’s so hard to explain to somebody that doesn’t know."
Typically, Drozd said, his job involves guiding metal support beams — delivered by crane — into place at building sites.
Drozd said his YouTube post was mostly to show some friends and family his newest gig, but was surprised to see how much attention it got. The video has been shared on several local news websites, as well as national sites including Gizmodo, a gadget and technology blog.
"Word really travels fast," he said.
Comments on the site ranged from users speculating about his pay for such a job to calling the video dizzying. Many other comments were a simple "nope."
"Are we constantly petrified? No. We’re pretty normal up there, we have normal conversations," he said. Drozd said most of his days, which can be more than seven hours on the antenna, are spent sitting on a specialized chair attached to a harness he calls "comfortable."
"We could always come down for lunch, but we don’t want to make that 350-foot climb twice a day," he said.
He called his first few times on the job last year "surreal," but he's gotten used to it, even if the fear never completely goes away.
"There’s a fear, but it's a safe fear and it keeps you safe," he said. "You can never let that fear get in the way of the task at hand. It just can’t overwhelm you. I'm not going to call myself fearless because I'm not.”
Drozd said it was always his dream to be an ironworker since seeing a TV show about it when he was in grade school. After high school, he had a few office gigs at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, which he quickly grew tired of. He’s now a journeyman ironworker with 14 years of experience and work on top of the Trump Tower, McCormick Place West and other Chicago skyscrapers under his belt.
"Obviously there's a danger factor," he said. "But it just looked so cool."
Drozd is a member of Iron Workers Local 1; he declined to provide the name of his company. A union representative said there are no rules prohibiting a worker from videotaping on the job — including recording their work on the nation's seventh tallest building.
Hancock building management didn't return calls for comment.
Drozd said he used to have to text his girlfriend, whom he lives with, every time he would come down for the day. She’s gotten more used to it now.
"She worries, but that’s about it,” he said. “It makes her nervous but ultimately she knows I’m careful."
Drozd said he’ll likely keep posting the videos, at least once the "commotion" dies down. Both his union and his employer have been getting phone calls and inquiries since the video was posted Aug. 6.
"I was like, I'm up here, may as well film it," he said.
Editor's Note: The story has corrected. Danny Drozd has been an ironworker for 13 years.
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