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    Thumbs up A Stronger Rope, and More, for Firefighters to Hold On To

    This was in the Times this morning. You need a login to view the story online.



    A Stronger Rope, and More, for Firefighters to Hold On To

    By MICHELLE O'DONNELL


    Less than five months after a Bronx fire forced two firefighters to jump to their deaths, the New York Fire Department is preparing to give each firefighter a costly rope escape system that was largely designed by a team of city firefighters using their off-duty skills in rock climbing and metalworking.

    Department officials say the escape systems, which they hope firefighters will be using by September, will make New York the nation's only large city to provide all firefighters with a rope and anchor to use if they must jump out a window to avoid advancing flames.

    The escape system is a revolutionary change from the simple one New York has used in the past, a bulky but weaker rope that was phased out after 1996 in a decision that unions said was made to save money and officials said was made to reduce the bulk firefighters carry.

    The new system, which will cost $11 million to purchase and deploy, features a reinforced metal hook that can be quickly affixed to a pipe, piece of furniture or even a wall using a steel tip narrower than a sharpened pencil. The 50-foot ropes are made of bulletproof Kevlar, and the lowering device involves leverage tricks used in rappelling.

    Officials say the systems would help firefighters reach the street from the fifth floor, or, in taller buildings, allow them to escape by climbing into a lower floor.

    Members of the design team were dissatisfied with the escape systems available on the market, so they immersed themselves in the mission of finding a better one. They became fluent in the terminology of biomechanics. They tested the equipment by dunking it in buckets of water to simulate getting drenched with a hose line, and they coated it with plaster to mimic the damage done to buildings at fires. And some paid their own way to a fire industry convention to query vendors.

    "We were going at it as if we were sending an astronaut into space," said Lt. Tim Kelly of Rescue 4 in Queens, a leader of the design team.

    Officials say the final system was selected from more than 40 designs, some of them submitted by manufacturers, others produced by the department's research and development unit, and some by the firefighters themselves. More than 5,000 tests were conducted on the designs by firefighters who dropped out of windows at the department's training center on Randalls Island.

    The search for a new system began days after two firefighters leapt to their deaths from a fourth-floor fire in a Bronx apartment on Jan. 23. Four other firefighters who jumped were seriously hurt, including two who tried to use a rope that one of them carried. Those two could not make quick or effective use of it, and they, too, fell to the ground.

    Questions immediately arose about the 1996 decision to remove the ropes.

    Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said he moved quickly reinstitute the ropes out of concern for firefighters' safety. His action comes at a time when fire union leaders say that smaller truck staffs and fewer firehouses indicates the department's lack of concern for their safety.

    Officials said the new ropes are stronger and easier to use, and will allow firefighters to clamber out of windows in 10 seconds. But firefighters must be trained in the new system, including a significant change in how they swing out windows.

    The department will also issue everyone a new harness, which will hold the pouch containing the escape kit and the hook for attaching the rope. Previously, there were a limited number of harnesses that firefighters shared. All that adds six pounds to the gear firefighters carry, which already can exceed 100 pounds, and the department may have to issue them stronger suspenders to hold up their pants. These changes and the overtime needed for training increase the cost of adding the devices, which are budgeted at about $1,000 a kit. The department plans to order about 11,000 of the units.

    The $11 million is roughly what it would cost to annually operate the six fire companies closed two years ago. Mr. Scoppetta said the escape system was a more critical need. "If they had had a system such as we're developing, this choice to go out the window would not have had to been made," he said.

    New York's plan is a natural evolution for a city forested with high-rise buildings, fire experts said.

    "There probably isn't any other fire department that does as much aboveground work as New York City," said Alan Brunacini, the fire chief in Phoenix and a member of a national board that sets fire safety standards. He said that New York's firefighting tactics often establish standards for other cities.

    Lieutenant Kelly, a ropes expert, said Chicago fire officials had expressed an interest in seeing the finished escape kit.

    Mr. Scoppetta said time was the great enemy at the Bronx fire. Flames rushed toward the windows searching for more oxygen, trapping firefighters at the sills in seconds. "Mayday! Mayday ! Ladder 27," one firefighter called over his radio at 8:28 a.m., two minutes before the first of the firefighters began jumping.

    Blinded by smoke, a firefighter from Rescue Company 3 who carried a length of rope out of habit, tied it to child safety bars to lower himself and a second firefighter, Mr. Scoppetta said. Without a device on the rope to control their descent, both firefighters tumbled to the ground, a fire official said.

    Among those injured was Brendan Cawley, a probationary firefighter with Ladder 27, who had jumped without any rope, and whose older brother, Michael, died on Sept. 11.

    "I just couldn't go see his mother and father and tell them that they lost another son," Lieutenant Kelly said.

    He and other officers assigned to the department's training academy began searching for a new rope, one that would be strong but, more important, could be affixed to virtually any wall quickly without searching for furniture to tie it to.

    They settled on a Kevlar rope, which resists melting in intense heat for 2 minutes and 20 seconds, Lieutenant Kelly said. It is so tough that during testing it dulled the edge of the glass in a broken window pane.

    The anchoring device was harder to find. They needed one that could be used when there was no pipe or piece of furniture available to attach it to.

    They called every institution they thought might be using one small enough to be carried on a tool belt, including Army Rangers in Georgia, without luck.

    Then a fire officer from the Bronx, Lt. Chris Delisio, produced his own design for a hook, modeled after a fishhook, and he and George Grammas, a firefighter with a background in metalwork, cast a prototype in the department's shop.

    Bill Duffy, a firefighter from East Harlem, offered the insights he has gained in six years of rock climbing and agreed to drop out of windows dozens of times a day to test the rope systems.

    Dozens of firefighters joined in rappelling out of windows to test the equipment. One of them, Darien Carey, noticed how they crawled on the floor to a window as if under a bank of smoke, then stood and lifted a leg over the sill. He mentioned that when he was in the Marine Corps, he was taught a more efficient maneuver called "spidering."

    Rather than rise to a standing position, a firefighter using that maneuver would secure the hook on the inside wall with his left hand, and would go out the window headfirst, with his right hand grasping the building exterior and his lower body shifting slowly over the sill like a spider. Once outside, he would swing his lower body back and complete the descent feet first.

    "Some of the chiefs come here and rolled their eyes, but we say, 'Ask any of your firefighters what they say about it,' " Lieutenant Kelly said.

    A key to going out headfirst is the descent device - a modified climbing device known as a Grigri - that locks in place once weight is applied. The firefighter controls the speed of his descent by releasing a lever. To carry all this equipment, Lieutenant Delisio graciously learned to sew and designed a pouch that hangs from the harness.

    The team has given all its results to the research unit, and has worked with an engineering consultant to figure out, among other things, how much stress - a firefighter laden with equipment can weigh 300 pounds or more - a rope can bear, and how to land that load without fracturing a pelvis or ankle.

    The result, officials say, is an invention born of necessity by a team of stubbly faced midwives.

    "Nobody out there is doing this," Lieutenant Kelly said. "The guy who makes rope, he knows his rope. The guy who makes a Grigri, he knows that. But we're pulling it all together."
    Jim
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    Good for them. I just hope that the system gets spread to everyone that wants one, New York or anywhere else.
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    Kudos to those guys for stepping up and taking the initiative. Sounds like a solid and much needed system.

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    It's about time!!
    The comments made by me are my opinions only. They DO NOT reflect the opinions of my employer(s). If you have an issue with something I may say, take it up with me, either by posting in the forums, emailing me through my profile, or PMing me through my profile.
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    Default NY Times Graphic

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    I wonder why they chose the GriGri over the I'D? Weight diff. is relatively small, the I'D has a larger handle (easier to use w/gloves) and is NFPA L compliant.

    The biggest difference between the two seems to be in the rated working loads each is designed to handle. The GriGri was designed for rock climbing and loads around 80kg. The I'D has a 150kg rating -much closer to the 300 lbs. they are looking for. Managing (i.e., avoiding) potential shock load on a cam-style device and the material that the hook is set in will be important. The strength of the rope is probably the least of the issues re: strength.

    Both the I'D and the GriGri have been used in various technical rescue arenas, particularly mountain rescue, for a number of years with good success.

    Good to see a workable solution being developed. The per unit cost does seem a bit high.

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    Default "I'D"?

    What is the "I'D" and who makes it?

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    Default Re: "I'D"?

    Originally posted by MiamiFire
    What is the "I'D" and who makes it?
    The I'D is a self-braking ascender/descender/belay device from Petzl. Same people who make the GriGri

    http://www.petzl.com/petzl/Produit?P...Famille=&News=

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    Thumbs up

    Grigri is OK, we think it's the best.
    We use it as auto-blocking and descender device. It is simple and effective, easy to use. We often use it with a Prusik or a Marchand.
    There is a possible problem, known and easy fixed: there are some rare actions that inhibit the blocking; for instance, when the operator panics could pull the lever that take the break off.
    There is an easy technic to evoid this, and surely your designers know it and will teach you how to do and what not to do.
    Grigri (Petzl) is very good.

    The other device, the ID, is the new Petzl descender, is safer than Grigri (has antipanic) but seems more complicate, big, heavy and expensive.

    Anyway, we have never had an escape rope. Your new rope (but also the old one) is very interesting, we are watching you.

    ciao!
    Last edited by draco9; 06-14-2005 at 09:10 AM.
    arseverse

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    I like the hook, the grigri.....I am going to have to test that one on my own....interesting though.

    I was under the impression that most of the Brothers already had the harness built into the gear?? Anybody know if they are going to a new style?
    I.A.C.O.J IRISH TATTOOED-HOOLIGAN

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    This whole configuration seems a little over the top to me. I suspect a FF who is out of practice will have trouble loading and operating a GriGri in the few seconds you may have to perform a bailout, and once again they are reliant on the FF wearing a separate harness and gear bag to hold everything.

    I would think for the incredibly rare circumstances required to use this, a simple friction device no more elaborate than an 8 or a beaner with a munter will serve the purpose and simplify as well as lighten the whole apparatus. I also think this stuff should be integrated into the SCBA harness with an interchangeable waist belt setup.

    You shouldn't necessarily be totally comfortable with the redundant safety of this rig, because it's not meant as an operational tool, it is a last ditch lifesaving measure.
    Never argue with an Idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience!

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    This whole configuration seems a little over the top to me. I suspect a FF who is out of practice will have trouble loading and operating a GriGri in the few seconds you may have to perform a bailout, and once again they are reliant on the FF wearing a separate harness and gear bag to hold everything.

    I would think for the incredibly rare circumstances required to use this, a simple friction device no more elaborate than an 8 or a beaner with a munter will serve the purpose and simplify as well as lighten the whole apparatus. I also think this stuff should be integrated into the SCBA harness with an interchangeable waist belt setup.
    mcaldwell,

    We've had our best guys, 100s (some from my house) of them working on this issue since it became the city's priority again! They too thought it was over the top that they should still issue personal ropes and harnesses to the men!

    I can't speak for your dept...however here there is no such thing as out of practice. We drill on the standard life saving rope proceedures all the time...from when you enter the academy to the day you retire. There is maybe one rope rescue a year if that. Most guys will never be at a job where one occurs let alone be involved in one. Do we still drill on it? Yes. Are guys proficent enough that at a moments notice they can perform this life saving drill? Yes. This is just one more drill we will have to perform regularly.

    They tried 100s of systems with 100s ropes. The system needed to be able to work under the worst conditions, low visibility, soaking wet, high heat, with firemens gloves on, with no solid anchor point and still be compact and low wieght. It had to deploy quick and be simple to use.

    Setting up a beaner with a munter or a figure 8 with some rope wouldn't cut it in any circumstance. Also I must ask you what would you do where you are no longer wearing your Mask? Having it intergrated to the member and not anything else would be more fool proof, No?

    Is this the best thing out there? Well so far we haven't been able to find anything else and if something else comes along that is better, I'm sure we'll look at it. I know I'll be glad to have it.

    FTM-PTB
    Last edited by FFFRED; 06-14-2005 at 05:23 PM.

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    Don't get me wrong Fred, I fully support the initiative and the efforts you guys have put in, I too am just wondering how to apply the KISS principle to the whole idea. More gear often just means more complex and more chance of operator error or system failure.

    I am following it with interest for sure.
    Never argue with an Idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience!

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    This is one of those things we'll just have to sit and see how it works out. There is only so much they can come up with at R&D. I imagine this like everything else will slowly change as problems and new solutions are raised.

    Looking at the time contraints and the current technology available this is about as good as it can get.

    Let's just hope this system is good enough for (god forbid) the next time something like this happens.

    FTM-PTB

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    I like the system.

    Right now, I am issued the Morning Pride turnouts with the harness built into the pants and the rope pocket in the tails. I keep 50 ft of rope loaded in the coat attached to a mini-8 with a carabiner at the end. In the event that its needed, I just need to attach the mini-8 to the biner on my pants/harness and hook the end-o-the-rope biner to a suitable anchor point. We train using a halligan in the bottom corner of the window. I think I'd really like the hook that the FDNY kit comes with.

    I like the hook enough that I might need to spend some time out in the garage shop this weekend and try to copy it. You guys didn't copyright it yet did ya?

    What ever system you have, please practice with it. Feel comfortable with it. That being said, anyone wanna test my homemade hook?

    Cheers,
    Scott Henry
    Dayton, OH

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