Let’s discuss how we’re going to tension our system. Utilizing an anchor, ideally in line with our highline direction, we’re going to build a 5:1 MAS and connect it to our main line via a rescue ascender (see Figure 3). By utilizing a rope-grab device such as a rescue ascender, it will allow us to disconnect and move our haul system from one line to the other or to another desired location. Once the main line is tensioned, lock the main line in place by using tandem triple-wrapped prusiks (see Figure 4.) Prusiks are great to use because they will give warning prior to failing. The prusik hitch will first skip down the rope and, under some circumstances, melt to the rope before it will fail completely. The main line is now tensioned and held in place by the tandem triple-wrapped prusiks and the haul system can be disconnected.
Now let’s tension our second main line (belay line). Just like our main line, we’ll connect our haul system to the belay line via tandem triple-wrapped prusik hitches. Once tensioned, the belay line will get locked in place by utilizing a break-bar rack. This would allow us to introduce slack into the belay line via the rack in the event we had a main-line failure and were forced for some reason to lower our victim to the ground—this operation would be based on the vertical height of the system (see Figure 5). The reason for tensioning our belay line is that in the event of a main-line failure we can still complete our mission utilizing our belay line. Remember, our belay line is on a completely separate anchor system than our main line and is perfectly safe to use to complete our rescue.
Moving Forward…And Backward
Highline systems are a facet of rope rescue that isn’t used that often, and that statement may be based purely on your department or rescue team’s response area. This skill seems to be utilized more in rural and wilderness areas as opposed to a more urban area. In actuality, the versatility of a highline system can be beneficial in many different rescue operations and in many different response areas. I can build a highline system to transport an injured hiker over an impassable ravine 100 feet in the air. I can take that same highline system and utilize it in an urban setting to transport gear, tools, or victims over a field of debris from a building collapse.
With a little training, your highline operations will only be as limited as the ingenuity you possess.
Stay safe and stay progressive.
MICHAEL R. DONAHUE is a 14-year veteran of the fire service is assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Elizabeth, NJ. Mike is the owner and founder of Progressive Rescue, a company dedicated to further firefighter's in all aspects of the job. He holds the title of rescue specialist with New Jersey's Urban Search and Rescue Team (NJ-TF1) and he is actively teaching at Middlesex Fire academy and the Middlesex County College as their Fire Science Program Coordinator. Mike has been a guest on two Firehouse.com podcasts: The Buzz on Technical Rescue: Rope Rescue Operations and The Buzz on Technical Rescue: Special Operations Roundtable, has taught as a HOT instructor at Firehouse Expo and is the Specialized Rescue Forum moderator for Firehouse.com. You can reach Michael by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.