Personal escape systems – independent or integrated?

By Assistant Chief/President Walter Schneider

Logan Fire Station of the Bellefonte Fire Department

Independent or integrated systems

There are two basic types of personal rescue systems: independent and integrated. An independent system attaches to a separate Class I or a Class II seat harness or escape belt. The rope and hardware are usually stowed in a bag that attaches to your harness or escape belt.

An integrated system employs the waist strap of your SCBA as the harness or escape belt. The hardware and rope are usually stowed in a bag that is attached to the SCBA straps or waist belt.

Each unique system has its strengths and weaknesses. There are numerous different options and models available to the fire service. During my career, I’ve tried a many of them, including my own personally developed system that I stowed in my thigh pocket. I like my system a lot because it’s:

  • simple to deploy and maintain,
  • it’s always there when I need it,
  • never in the way when I don’t need it,
  • and the rope and hardware are shielded from the elements. 

The drawbacks are that it’s my system and it has never been tested beyond me. Although I trust it fully, I would never ask another fire fighter to rely on it.

I was recently shown a commercially developed personal escape system that is similar to my system and other systems I’ve seen put together by individual fire fighters. The Personal Rescue System from Lion Apparel stows the rescue rope and hardware in a cargo pocket on the turnout pants. But this pocket is different than mine. It’s built specifically to hold personal escape tools and keep them accessible. The inside of the pocket is divided into two compartments – one holds the rescue line, the other the hardware. Plus, it’s removable so the pocket works like a drop bag.

Here’s how the Personal Rescue System works:

  1. Open the pocket flap and pullout the pre-rigged carabineer and descender. The carabineer is attached to the lead end of the life safety line.
  2. Connect the carabineer to the anchor or wrap the rescue line around the anchor and hook the carabineer onto the rescue line itself.
  3. Pull the rope taut.
  4. Engage the lever of the descender as you back away from the anchor toward the window. When you reach the window, rip the pocket off your pants leg and toss it out the window.
  5. With the descender in the locked position, exit the window.
  6. Begin your repel to safety.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series written by Assistant Chief/President Walter Schneider, Logan Fire Station of the Bellefonte Fire Department, focusing on personal escape systems.