Air Bag Operations - Part 1: An Introduction

What are the air bags capabilities, how are they classified and what components make up the entire system. These are a few of the topics covered in this informative article.

Remote shutoffs or “pigtails” can be connected between the controller and the pneumatic hose or the pneumatic hose and the air bag (photo 4). These “pigtails” allow the operator to close a valve and disconnect the hose from the system without having air leak out of the bag. This is desirable when more than two bags are required to complete the lift. It is beneficial to have the remote shutoff located at the controller so members will not be placed in the hazard zone when switching hoses. The location of the shutoffs will depend on the manufacturer’s recommendations or your department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The final part of the air-bag system is the air bags themselves. Each air bag is connected to the system via a nipple in one of the corners that controls the airflow into or out of the bag. Air bags are available in various sizes and capacities from the manufacturer. The bags are constructed of neoprene or butyl rubber that is reinforced with either steel wire or layers of Kevlar© Aramid© fiber. These reinforcing layers are designed to prevent the bag from being punctured.

Each air bag is stamped with its operating pressure and maximum lifting capacity (photo 5). Some bags are also stamped with their maximum lifting height. In addition, air bags have an “X” or some sort of mark to designate where the center of the bag is for lifting operations (photo 6). More on air-bag capacity and placement will be covered in future articles.


Members must be proficient at air bag operations to quickly and safely affect a rescue. If these types of operations are not safely performed they can result in the load shifting and/or dropping causing further injury or death to the victim or rescuers. Understanding the entire air-bag system and the science behind it is vital for a successful outcome.

JONATHAN HALL is currently a firefighter with the Saint Paul, MN, Fire Department. He previously served as a training and safety officer for the Township Fire Department in Eau Claire, WI. He is a certified fire instructor for the Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. Jonathan frequently teaches firefighter survival and rapid intervention team concepts in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.