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June 06, 2005

NYC firefighters invent revolutionary new escape gear

I ♥ the FDNY:

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.


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. [NYT]


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As a rock climber this all sounds way cool. The article isn't too clear, but it sounds like they're wearing the harnesses all the time with the pouch clipped into the harness and the gri-gri(decent device) already attached to the rope and bundled up in the pouch. I can't imagine that anyone would think it's a good idea to require firefighters to put on a harness while trapped in a burning building their only escape from which is through the window. And threading a gri-gri with heavy gloves on is doable, but would be a hassle and only add to the escape time.

I'm a little surprised by the choice of a gri-gri though. Sure, they work really really well, and they will lock up and hold the rope even if the user lets go with both hands (necessary if you're diving out of the window headfirst). But they are heavy and they are expensive. Market price for one is about $70.

I also wonder what diameter ropes they're using. Thinner ropes are obviously lighter, but a thicker rope might be required to handle the heat and flame. Also, a regular gri-gri can't grip really thin ropes.

Out here in LA we actully had a pre-911 high-rise fire, and because the LAFD drill constantly, all their preparation worked, and no lives were lost. Way to go LAFD!

What the hell is the point of Mudkitty's comment? Both LA and NYC have had many high-rise fires over the years. (I consider it a high-rise if you can't get a tower ladder stick up to the window). The FDNY has been fighting high-rise fires for over fifty years with few fatalities- minus the time 19 assholes flew planes into two of the tallest buildings in the world.

This rope escape system is a cheaper, easier to use version of a rope system that was phased out in 1996 for being 1) to expensive or 2) to bulky, depending on who you believe. The firefighters who got killed in the Bronx were not at a high-rise, but at a mid-sized apartment bulding- a brownstone, IIRC.

Hey, firefighter, it's not a contest or either or...

So where are the construction plans for this project? I don't want to simply hear about it. I want to know how to make one for my own use. I'd also like to get the plans to the Orlando Fire Department, which doesn't have the personnel or time to do their own R&D for such a project. But mainly, I want to use it to save my own life, since (because of the aforementioned cutbacks) it's unlikely anyone will be able to save mine.

The harness (min. = $30), grigri ($70), carabiners ($8-12) are all available at your local outdoor shop. The rope might be a bit harder if you want the fire resistant kevlar variety - check out a police/fire department supply catalogue or just make do with some generic 10mm static line. The hook sounds like it's manufactured specifically for the FDNY, so call them and ask for one.

Of course, it is your responsibility to learn how to use all that junk (your local climbing gym can help). And if you fall on your head during the first test run don't complain. After all, you're taking advice off a stranger on the internet.

This is a poor plan what hapens over 50 feet.

Check out this site

This is a real escape/entry system for high rise buildings.

I hope I can clear up some of the confusion.
First Jan. 23, 2005 FDNY tragedy happened in a H type Multipal Dwelling, very common in and thruout the city.
Second, the PSS ( Personal Safety System) each firefighter will wear will be pre-attached to a personal harness each firefighter will be waring.
It will consist of a Special Steel alloy Forged Anchor/Hook Attached with a sewn eye to a 50ft. length of 7.5 mm Technora Kermantel rope specialy designed with a techonora core.This rope is extreamily fire resistant & cut resistant and strong, currently testing at 5900lbs., escape system ropes need only to be 3100 lbs as req. by NFPA 1983. The GRI-GRI has been modified and is known as the EXO.
Modifcations made to it allow it to be used with a 7.5mm rope spec.out and approved by PETZL.
This descent device allows us to use a low - stretch rope product because of its ability to take up shock load in the system and keep it below 6 Kn.
For hights above 50 ft. the FF. will be brought in on the floor below by our FAST truck team that is assigned on every working fire. All of this will be packaged in a light weight Nomax bag aprox. 7 in. X 8in.lg. x 1.5 in. thk.& pre-attached to the harness.
The FDNY development team went thru many devices and ropes during the R&D of this system, many things were learned about rope, webbing and its limitations, descent devices, and the new anchor/hook which was made by Crosby Group who helped the FDNY engineer to get it to meet NFPA 1983 for Light Anchor load requirments. We have developed specific training in reguard to deploying and using this system, Each FF will be trained 8hrs. on its use before its issued to him or her. I repete TRAINING is needed to use a PSS system.
I hope I cleared up most of the issues, the FDNY will be more than happy to pass on what we have learned to any FD intrested and can be reached thru my E Mail or by phone to the FDNY Bu. of Traininr @ Randels Island
Be Safe,
George Grammas Ladder Co. 102 FDNY

hey guys i think this rode idea is great. u guys should not be bitching about who fought more high rise fires and shit it doesnt matter how long u have been fighting them all the matters is that this rode thing could have ur life and other me being only 17 shouldnt bve saying any thing about this but i been wanting to be a firefighter for many years and have been studing firefighting and i no almost teh whole city of hamilton ontario canada and i love the work u do u guy shoudl just stop bitching about every thing and just do wut u guys do best and thats help others thank u to all u guys. god bless u all u fire fighter and hope to fight fire one day beside u guys

I have just started to read blogs. This is a good one. Majik, you jave a good site. In any case, the FDNY ropes are heavy, make sitting in the rig very tight, but they just might save my ass one day, so no complaints. I'm actually very, very proud of the fact that this was designed by us. The training was top notch, too. If there are any other firemen reading this, let me tell you, it's really a well-designed system. Literally, if the shit hits the fan, I can bail out in a few seconds. It's reassuring. Now if we can only get better radios. They're not much better than they were on 9.11, and they were pretty bad that day. Two men had to die to get these escape ropes. 343 died and we're still working with these motorolla radios...shame.

Chris, thanks for your first-hand perspective. Welcome to the wonderful world of blogs. I hope you'll become a regular.

I must admit I am new to the blog scene and this is a good discussion forum. I myself have been a firefighter for 15 years and ride as a Lieutenant on a ladder truck for a small city in New Hampshire.

The United States Fire Service is known world-wide to use very aggressive "interior search/rescue operations and fire extinguishment" techniques. If you have ever asked a firefighter from another country how they operate, you will hear over and over that U.S. firefighters "take too many chances." Meaning many other places in the world, do not enter to either extinguish a fire or attempt a rescue under fire. Heck some places I have roamed, do not oufit there firefighters with a complete set of fire gear.

Unfortunately, the public has become accustomed to firefighter's risking there lives, everytime a person is trapped in a fire. Modern, aggressive firefighters enter a burning building in hopes to locate a victim and save a life! Holding on to hope, to quickly locate a trapped victim seconds before they perish. With this mindset though, we place ourselves at risk. There are many things that can go wrong at a fire, remember it is an "uncontrolled" fire. We call these factors, "educated risks" meaning knowledge obtained from past live fire incidents (even though no two fires are the same) that we store away for future reference. Sometimes though, we experience an event that we cannot adapt our tactics or overcome the situation. Things happen to us, equipment failure,poor or illegal building construction, firefighters getting lost or disoriented in zero visability, rapid fire increase that overruns, or cuts off our egress, and even less personnel at fires due to the ever growing budget cuts effect us. Good, hell great firefighters at times, need to escape or "bailout" of a structure due to pushing the envelope and an uncontrollable event occurs. Hopefully we can escape all the way to the ground but sometimes this is impossible on the 18th floor but egressing to a window below will provide the safety needed to survive the event and go home to our wives, husbands, and children. Every interior firefighter should own a personal escape system. Budgetary wise though, city councilors, town selectmen, fire administration, and even some taxpayers feel they cost too much to oufit everyone. If you asked any of them, do they expect firefighters to rescue them, 9 times out of 10 you'll hear, "Hell Yes".... Thats a shame, thats like your insurance company telling your doctor to perform a sugery cheaper, so he is forced to cut corners with improper tools or lack of the right equipment.

I along with many other product dealers offer PSS's. A complete firefighter personal escape system with the FESH Hook, a rapid anchoring system that attaches to the window sill, door, wall studs, pretty much anything.

Complete system with FESH Hook anchoring device, 7.5 mm sterling rope, nomex bag, descender, beaners and a rescue harness for $205.00 For more information check out: and go our products page.

Thanks to all of the wonderful men and women who dedicate their lives to providing the best protection possible. God Bless all who had to perish to develop new technology, you were lost but NOT FORGOTTEN.

Godspeed Brothers

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