Personal escape systems – what are the right tools to use?

By Assistant Chief/President Walter Schneider

Logan Fire Station of the Bellefonte Fire Department

The ideal tool for bailing out is a personal escape system that is certified to meet NFPA 1983 Standard on Fire Service Life Safety Rope and Equipment, 2006 Edition. It’s important that the entire system is certified, not just the individual components. Remember this a system and needs to perform as one flawlessly.

The components of a personal escape system typically are:

  • Class II Seat Harness or Escape Belt
  • Life Safety Rope – Rope dedicated solely for the purpose of rescue.
  • Load-bearing Connectors – carabineers, rings, quick links or snap links
  • Descent Device – Friction or mechanical device utilized to control descending on a fixed line.
  • Tether – Webbing that connects ascent device to a Class II harness or escape belt

Over the years, I have seen many inventive fire fighters develop their own systems using components from a variety of sources, including recreational equipment and hardware store purchases. This type of innovation has often been the genesis for advances in safety equipment and tools. The pioneers of personal escape systems are to be commended for acknowledging the threat and filling an equipment void, however there are drawbacks to homemade systems. These include the lack of testing, training, oversight and consistency.

The commercialization of personal escape systems during recent years has delivered an important level of quality control. There are a number of systems available to the fire service certified to meet NFPA 1983, 2006. Like any other equipment acquisition, the selection of a personal escape system should start with a risk assessment to develop criteria. While each department is unique, the criteria for selecting a personal escape system will likely be based on ease of use, storage and attachment, weight, quality of components and whether or not the manufacturer provides training.

  1. Ease of use – It’s paramount for the system to be simple. As a whole, the fire service is not comfortable with rope. It’s not a skill we use all the time. If you need to bail out, you don’t want to be trying to learn the system in a smoke filled hot room, nor do you want to be putting a complex system together while hanging out of a third story window. You want to be able to anchor the system, clear the window, and go.
  2. Storage and attachment – This is a balancing act between three factors:
    1. The system must be easily accessible when you need it. If it takes time to get to it and deploy it, it’s a hazard you don’t want.
    2. The system needs to be out of the way when not deployed. You don’t want it banging against you or snagging on debris.
    3. When not in use, the rope and hardware should be shielded from water, oils, dirt and other contaminants on the fireground or at a rescue scene. A dirty or degraded rope and dirty or corroded hardware are unreliable and dangerous.
  3. Weight – Let’s face it, we carry enough as it is.
  4. Quality of components – You want to use a rope, tether and carabineers that have proven track records and are designed to work together.
  5. Training – Make sure training classes are available through your manufacturer. You want to learn how to deploy and maintain your system from people who know it best.

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

One thought on “Personal escape systems – what are the right tools to use?”

  1. Milford is a wonderful liltte town full of friendly people. I work very hard at maintaining my lawn and making improvements to help beautify this town. It frustrates me terribly when I am sitting on my deck and watch people who are walking their pets, let them deficate in my yard and keep walking on without cleaning it up. I’m the one who gets to clean it up. What ever happened to responsible pet owners? What would you suggest I do to further prevent this from happening?

Comments are closed.