By Chris Mc Loone
In the world of technical rescue, there are myriad types of hardware rescuers rely on to simplify the task at hand in the safest way possible.
Often, the choice to go with one piece of hardware over another comes down to the personal preferences of technical rescue team members after a pretty thorough testing process. The only way to know if a piece of equipment is right for you or for the team in general is to get out and demo it.
But, it’s not always easy to do so. Trying out a new rigging system isn’t as easy as driving to your training center, tying into a hydrant, and trying out a new nozzle in the burn building. Not every department has the props necessary to simulate a high angle or confined space rescue scenario. For existing teams, as well as groups trying to get off the ground, the best way to spec the equipment is to use the equipment.
There is also the matter of training the trainer. Any technical rescue group needs to ensure that whoever is doing the instructing is intimately familiar with the equipment. So, an instructor isn’t only teaching about “ascenders” in a general sense but is teaching about a specific ascender completely. There are a number of companies producing hardware for firefighters to use for high angle or low angle rescue as well as self-evacuation. One such company is Petzl, and it also provides the means for Petzl equipment users to get the experience and training they need at its Petzl Technical Institute.
Petzl, the Company
Petzl’s roots go back to 1936, when Fernand Petzl and Pierre Chevalier met. Petzl had already been fabricating products for him and his friends to use for caving, then a discipline no one had perfected. Petzl was a mechanic by trade, and the devices he made helped him get into places previously inaccessible. Petzl and Chevalier perfected new techniques for progression by pioneering the use of nylon ropes instead of the fixed ladders that were in use at the time. “Petzl traces its roots to underground exploration,” says Jesse Williams, Petzl Technical Institute manager. “In 1956, founder Fernand Petzl set a world depth record of -3,681 feet in France’s Gouffre Berger cave complex. From the start, Petzl has strived to create products that allow people to access some of the world’s most inaccessible places.”
|1 The Petzl Technical Institute is a 15,000-square-foot training center that features a 55-foot-tall climbing wall; 5,000 square feet of exposed vertical structure; a 36-foot-tall drop-test tower; and a three-story simulated apartment building for rescue, firefighter evacuation, and confined space training. (Photos courtesy of Petzl America.)|
By 1968, Petzl was designing and producing rope clamps, descenders, and pulleys in his own workshop. In the 1970s, with his two sons, Petzl expanded to producing mountaineering products. In 1975, Petzl established a headquarters in Crolles, France, and by 1977, Petzl began producing harnesses. In 1991, Petzl opened a subsidiary in the United States and also introduced its first self-braking belay device. Petzl America is located in West Valley City, Utah, and the Petzl Technical Institute was opened in 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The company’s tagline today hearkens back to its roots: “Access the inaccessible®.”
Petzl Technical Institute
The Petzl Technical Institute is considered part of Petzl’s technical solutions offering. The facility is a 15,000-square-foot training center that is home to a 55-foot-tall climbing wall; 5,000 square feet of exposed vertical structure; a 36-foot-tall drop-test tower; and a three-story simulated apartment building for rescue, firefighter evacuation, and confined space training. “The Petzl Technical Institute provides solutions for individuals who work or play in vertical worlds,” says Williams. “As a manufacturer of industrial safety, rescue, and sport equipment, we have a unique, global perspective of verticality not offered by any other training organization in North America.”
Visitors to the Petzl Technical Institute will find themselves in the company of individuals representing a variety of industries, not just rescue personnel. “Petzl offers solutions for all of its product families, serving arborists, tactical operators, rope access technicians, and professional rescuers,” adds Williams.
Although training is a huge part of the Petzl Technical Institute, it’s not the only mission of the facility. “With direct input from product designers, our instructors are able to combine a unique theoretical education experience with the hands-on practical training,” says Williams. But that is not all. Training, in any discipline, helps technicians as well as the trainers refine their crafts and, in this case, improve on the tools and equipment used. In this way, according to Williams, “The Petzl Technical Institute is part of a broader process of continual improvement in the application of Petzl products. This process includes gaining feedback from end users and testing new or improved solutions for the challenges our customers encounter on their work sites.”
|2 The Petzl EXO AP aims to better control adrenaline-fueled escapes with an antipanic function that engages automatically if the user’s adrenaline spikes and he yanks too hard on the handle.|
One product Petzl is preparing to train everyone from retailers, fire rescue, and tactical operators how to use is the EXO AP personal evacuation solution, formally launched in July 2016 but debuted at FDIC International 2016. The EXO AP is an evolution of Petzl’s EXO and is designed to help people who are under duress exit buildings. It aims to better control adrenaline-fueled escapes with an antipanic function that engages automatically if the user’s adrenaline spikes and he yanks too hard on the handle. The descent will stop automatically and give the firefighter a moment to collect himself before reengaging the handle to continue the descent in a controlled manner.
The EXO AP descender and its Am’D “H” frame connector with CAPTIV retainer bar provide users with the security to quickly move horizontally, climb through a window, and control and stop a descent. The 50-foot Technora® escape rope resists abrasion and high temperatures. The Nomex® carry bag attaches the system directly to the harness.
From the beginning, Petzl has been a provider of solutions, dating back to when Fernand Petzl first began fabricating equipment for him and his friends to use to explore caves in France. In this way, the Petzl Technical Institute is an evolution of that original workshop. “Petzl does not create products but solutions to real world problems,” says Williams. “Fernand Petzl first started hand manufacturing equipment to solve technical challenges he encountered while exploring caves. As Petzl grew, the Petzl workshop became a meeting place for vertical experts to discuss the techniques and challenges they encountered. The Petzl Technical Institute is the 21st century extension of that workshop.”
CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 23-year veteran of the fire service and an assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has served on past apparatus and equipment purchasing committees. He has also held engineering officer positions, where he was responsible for apparatus maintenance and inspection. He has been a writer and an editor for more than 20 years.