Today's fire service operates in a very volatile environment -- both on and off the fireground. A question that we have to continually ask is: are we ready for these challenges and how do we overcome them? Learning the basic core skills of our work and being able to apply them in a manner to fit the various situations that we encounter is what makes us successful when confronted with a challenge on the fireground.
With the numerous tasks being required of firefighters in today's environment, one would think that it is necessary for a firefighter or department to spend a small fortune equipping each firefighter with personal tools. When it comes to personal equipment, it is imperative that a firefighter get the "most bang for their buck." Let's face it, who wants to carry an extra 10 pounds of equipment in their bunker gear pockets? Excessive equipment hanging from belts or on top of helmets also creates entanglement hazards for firefighters.
Each and every firefighter must be prepared to overcome whatever challenges they face. A simple and easy to carry, but very versatile piece of personal equipment that can be carried in bunker gear is a rescue or prussik loop. A rescue or prussik loop is a piece of cord or rope that has a loop formed in it by the use of a double fisherman's knot. The double fisherman's knot is utilized in joining the two ends of cord or rope due to it's ability to retain a great deal of the cord's original strength -- it is estimated to be as high as 70 percent -- and, because once it is tied and set by weight being applied, it is extremely difficult to untie.
Traditionally the prussik loop has been used in the high angle rescue environment for numerous tasks such as ascending, anchor attachments, victim "pick offs," load releasing and safety devices and self rescue (see photo 1).
Using prussik loops outside of the technical rescue environment for firefighting was first introduced by members of the Phoenix Fire Department. The loops were issued as a solution to the challenges faced when trying to remove a downed firefighter as experienced by the removal of Brett Tarver at the Southwest Supermarket fire in 2001. Securing a loop to each extremity of the downed firefighter would allow them to be carried by the loops as if they were handles, eliminating slipping caused by turnout gear that was wet.
Creating The Prussik or Rescue Loop
Forming the prussik or rescue loop is quite simple, it is just a double fisherman's knot used to tie the rope or cord into a loop. A triple fisherman's knot is also acceptable:
- Wrap one end of the rope over the other two times. The second wrap should cross over the first. Pull the working end through the wraps. Basically, this is a double overhand knot (see photo 2).
- Repeat with the opposite rope end (see photo 3).
- Tighten both sides down to cinch upon each other (see photos 4 and 5).
- A piece of rubberized shrink wrapping can be applied over the knot to provide a gripping surface as well as provide protection for the knot (see photo 6).
Uses of the loop can include but are not limited to;
Secured in a girth hitch to a downed firefighter's self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) harness, a prussik can provide a sling to pull the firefighter as a horse would pull a cart. Whenever the loop is used as a sling, it is important to keep in mind that the longer the distance from the downed firefighter to the rescuer, the more difficult that controlling and dragging the downed firefighter will be (see photo 7).
Prussiks can be used to establish handles and grab points to move downed firefighters. Placing the loops into a girth hitch on the extremities of the downed firefighter provides points that enable multiple rescuers to move a downed firefighter above obstacles and debris (see photo 8)
Prussiks can be utilized in helping to move a firefighter or victim up a staircase. They are especially effective in helping to clear a downed firefighter's SCBA bottle stem from getting caught on the stair treads while moving (see photo 9).