From The Officer’s Seat: The Rapid Intervention Rope Bag - Part 3

In this third article on the rapid intervention rope bag, we will discuss another use of this simply fabricated life saving device. We hope to illustrate to you how you can use the rapid intervention rope to remove a downed firefighter from a roof, another location where we classically operate.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
For safe peaked-roof operations, members should be tethered into the roof ladder via a belt or harness. Note how the wire can be doubled up to shorten the slack or run single to give a greater reach for the saw operator.

It would be nice if we never had to place ourselves at risk by working above a fire on a roof. There may be departments whose policies restrict members to roof operations only from an aerial device. This may be due to a predominance of lightweight truss construction used in roofs. Under fire conditions in an attic or concealed space, these roofs are quick to fail and standard procedures may direct us from even setting foot on such firefighter killers.

Based on climate and topography, many locations enjoy an abundant combination of one-story structures, buried underground utility lines and aerial devices aplenty. In the Northeast, however, we do not have such luxury in our aging cities.

We have all seen the photos of narrow streets lined with aboveground telephone poles and their myriad cable TV, telephone, and secondary and primary electric lines. More often than not, these overhead wires prevent us from using aerial devices to "get the roof." Coupled with setbacks of only 20 to 30 feet from the street, often the only alternative route to the roof is via portable ground ladders.

"Two-and-a-halves," "triple deckers" and the like routinely force us to use extension ladders to access these peaked roofs. With snow loads existing for up to half the year, building codes require a heavier construction of roofs. We feel that we can operate on them under fire conditions for a greater duration than, say, a tiled roof found in the western desert, and so we do.

When operating on a peaked roof to ventilate, a member must wear a safety harness of some type. A roof ladder must always be present to hook onto. The pitch of some roofs prevents the vertical vent team from venturing off the roof ladder. The idea of being tied in is to keep members from falling off the roof in the event they lose their footing.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
The simplicity of the hook makes the operation quick and simple. Unlike firefighter removals where some mechanical advantage is desired, here the pulley is placed on the rungs, which act as the anchor. This change of direction allows members on the ground the ability to lower the member off the peaked roof.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
Once you have hooked up the firefighter onto the rapid intervention rope, you may still need to "unload" him from his ladder belt. It is critical that when this operation takes place the victim is always connected to the roof ladder.

Recently, a fire officer in upstate New York suffered a cardiac-related problem while operating on a peaked roof. In a situation such as this, we have a medical emergency in one of the most at-risk locations on the fireground. There is no time to lose in getting a stricken member to medical personnel. Fighting heat and smoke only compounds the urgency of the scenario.

If your department mandates ladder belts or harnesses while operating on peaked roofs, then read on. If you are not required to be tied in, then the medical emergency on the roof will quickly become a medical emergency on the ground and you don't need these tactics. Your trauma skills will be needed instead.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
With one (or more) rescuers in place on the roof ladder, the hooks of the roof ladder will be firmly planted in the peak. You can now lower the victim in a controlled manner. The concern will be when the firefighter victim approaches the edge of the roof. Care must be taken by the rescuers to insure limbs of the victim are not pinned by the rapid intervention rope, and that there are no sharp edges that might cut the rope. Should we take time to provide edge protection? Not if this is a full arrest and the structure continues to burn beneath the unconscious firefighter.

Envision a 250-plus-pound member unconscious on the roof, being held safely in place by his ladder belt. How do we intend to fight gravity and lower him to the ground in a controlled manner? Are you capable of holding him in your arms as you descend a ground ladder? How long will this take on an ice-covered 35-foot extension?

Enter the rapid intervention rope bag. Again, the versatility of this setup is only more valuable as we see another use for it. Unlike the other scenarios discussed in parts one and two of this series, which dealt with lifting downed firefighters, the peaked-roof evolution addresses lowering techniques.

With the member secured to the roof ladder, another firefighter needs only bring the working end of the rope bag to the roof. The bag and hauling end remain on the ground where ANYONE (neighbor, police officer, apparatus driver) can assist in the lower.

The rescuer on the roof hooks the pulley onto the highest rung of the roof ladder possible, preferably above the rung where the ladder belt of the downed firefighter is connected. Because we are more concerned with control than mechanical advantage, we do not put the pulley on the load. Simply snap the running end hook onto the firefighter's ladder belt or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), if he is wearing one.

With the pulley on the rung acting as a change of direction, our only task now is to "unload" the downed firefighter from the roof ladder. This should not be attempted until after the rapid intervention rope is secured to the victim. The members on the ground may have to pull down on the rope momentarily to release the victim. Once he is freed, he should be able to slide down the roof and over the edge. With the top rescuer securely on the roof ladder, there is little chance of this anchor point moving against the sliding friction of the moving firefighter.

Once he clears the edge, lower swiftly as you will be running the rope over the gutter or lip, a habit we try to avoid in any rope work. In this case, our medical emergency warrants unconventional methods to rapidly extricate a downed firefighter from the roof of a structure still on fire. With practice, this evolution can be performed on a roof of any pitch in less than a minute. Gravity is doing all the work; we are just controlling his descent.

To maintain proficiency, it is necessary to train often with the rapid intervention rope. Since this series began, we have heard from countless others who have added to the procedures described.

What is most important is to train in several different methods and become proficient in each one. There are numerous paths to the goal of rescuing a downed firefighter. It is more significant to realize a positive result versus the method of getting there. Keep training.

Mark J. McLees, a Firehouse® contributing editor, was recently promoted to battalion chief with the Syracuse, NY, Fire Department. Previously, he was captain of Rescue Company 1. Part was in the April 200 issue and Part 2 was in the February 2001 issue. For the latest in rapid intervention news and techniques visit