The LifeCender Personal Escape System

Pat O'Kane is man who has spent most of his life working with his hands, but he will be known in the years to come as the man whose mind sparked the concept that will save so many other lives throughout the world. Born 42 years ago in Derry City...


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Taking the project as far as they could themselves, O'Kane and Goodman realized it would need additional research, development and funding. In June 2002 they approached Bill Henson Sr., a successful businessman and inventor from Michigan to help develop the project further. Along with financial backing and technical resources, Henson has substantial engineering and design background. Henson led the design and engineering team, which further developed the original descender idea into a more compact, self-contained prototype. They formed a company called American Escape Systems Inc. and the descending device was now called the LifeCender Personal Escape System.

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Photo by Paul Hashagen
The compact LifeCender Firefighter Escape System is small enough to be carried in a bunker pants pocket. It includes 40 feet of ultra-high-strength escape line.

Through research, development and testing, the LifeCender Personal Escape System has evolved into a compact device that can be used hands-free by anyone over 50 pounds. Additional harnesses and systems are being developed that will allow infants, toddlers and pets to descend with an adult. The company's mission statement says, "Our mission is to save lives," and that is what this device will do.

The LifeCender Firefighter Escape System consists of a descending device small enough to fit in the palm of the hand; it can be carried easily in a bunker pants pocket. The device provides 40 feet of ultra-high-strength escape line, which can withstand high temperatures. The rope is stronger than steel cable of the same thickness. A braking system lets users slow or stop their descent. But the LifeCender has been engineered to provide a safe landing at full-open descent speed. The FFLC-40 (Firefighter LifeCender) specifications provide an escape line break strength of 5,600 pounds and a melt temperature of 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The price for the FFLC-40 will be under $150.

The system was demonstrated at a recent training seminar in Clearwater, FL, by several firefighters from across the country, which gave it positive reviews. As one firefighter from Manhattan, IL, remarked upon seeing the demonstration, "You guys have done what firemen have been trying to do for over 200 years."

American Escape Systems has also developed a version that is being marketed to the public. The Personal LifeCender employs the same specially engineered descending device in conjunction with an easy-to-use harness. The system comes in a compact carrying case that weighs less than six pounds. It can easily be stored at home, at the office or in a hotel room. The PLC-80 offers a safe descent down seven stories, and the PLC-30 will descend three stories. A 15-story unit will be available later this year. The harness is available in two sizes. The small size will hold a person who weighs 50 to 175 pounds, and the large size will accommodate individuals up to 300 pounds.

Another feature of the LifeCender Personal Escape System with the harness is that it can be used by firefighters to aid victims trapped on the upper stories of buildings and help them descend safely. It also can be used if the victim is unconscious because of the preset, hands-free descent speed and secure positioning of the harness. The LifeCender Personal and Professional models are scheduled to be available July 1. For further information, visit American Escape System's website at www.lifecender.com or call 888-201-1850.


Paul Hashagen, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY 1865-2000: Millennium Book, a history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.