The ResQmax Line-Throwing Gun
BY RAUL A. ANGULO
Anytime there is a body of water in a jurisdiction, there is a potential for someone to drown. Almost every city has a community swimming pool, and although lifeguards are employed, the fire department will more than likely be called to render emergency medical basic life support or advanced life support service.
When cities have larger bodies of water, like rivers, lakes, reservoirs, quarries, bays, and oceanfront, special teams like swift water rescue, ice rescue, dive teams, and ocean-surf rescue teams are necessary. Not every firefighter will get to be on the team, but if you have waterfront in your city, any firefighter can be the first rescuer on scene, so you better be ready.
Seattle, Washington, is a city surrounded by water with many lakes within its boundaries. One of the popular tourist attractions is Ride the Duck—a fleet of World War II amphibious vehicles converted to take sightseeing tourists around the city by land and by water. Many waterfront cities have these vehicles as a tourist attraction. Seattle has had its share of Duck accidents, but the most recent one nationwide occurred on July 19, 2018 in Branson, Missouri. Seventeen people drowned, including children, when a sudden storm swamped the boat on Table Rock Lake.
Every fire apparatus in Seattle has a life ring and a water rescue throw bag, both with 150 feet of eight-millimeter (mm) water rescue rope (that floats), but to my knowledge, there is no requirement to train on throwing the life ring. Drownings are low-frequency events, so when the life ring is needed, you better be accurate. This is no time to be fumbling with the rope or trying to figure out the best way to hold and throw the life ring to a drowning victim. In addition, the public will probably be watching and recording you. Nothing can look worse than a professional charged with saving a life, swinging a rope with a life ring, only to step on the rope or have it get snagged in the bushes or a tree.
It was this vision of public embarrassment that prompted me to drill my crews on throwing the life ring on a regular basis. I picked up a few sticks from the shoreline and threw them out in the lake. At first, crews thought it was silly—until they realized throwing the life ring for distance and accuracy was harder than they thought. They all took turns laughing and kidding each other; then it became a competition to see who could throw the life ring the farthest and hit the floating stick. No one wanted to quit until they outdid each other. The loser had to buy Slurpees for the crew at the 7-11. Needless to say, what would normally be a quick 10- to 15-minute drill easily went longer than an hour when Slurpees were on the line. Although it started out as fun and games, it quickly took on a very serious timbre.
During the drill, a lot of discussion took place on how they could save as many people as possible, and they came up with creating a floating ladder. They took all the life jackets off the truck and buckled them on to the baby ladder. They figured if they had a floating ladder attached to a tag line, numerous people could take hold of the beams on the floating ladder and could be towed to shore all at once. I was very impressed with their creativity but not surprised—firefighters come up with ingenious ideas when lives are at stake. It’s who they are. Although the floating ladder idea worked, it was difficult to throw it any distance. The decision was made that if we ever needed a floating ladder, a swimmer would have to tow it out to the victims. These are great drills, and I encourage you to try them, but there is an easier way.
THE RESQMAX SYSTEM™
The ResQmax is one of many innovative, intrinsically safe, nonpyrotechnic rescue products from Rescue Solutions International (RSI), Inc. It is specifically designed for water rescue, but RSI also makes a variety of line-throwing equipment for land rescue, tactical access for military and law enforcement, ship boarding equipment, and boat-stopping equipment used in port security. The RSI line-throwing apparatus, or gun, breaches and bridges a wide open span by delivering a line for rescue or access faster, farther, and with more accuracy than manual methods.
The ResQmax is a nonpyrotechnic compressed-air-powered line thrower that does not require gun shells, cartridges, or special storage. It can deploy a wide variety of lines to distances up to 400 feet and replaces traditional pyrotechnic line-throwing guns with intrinsically safe, nonlethal options for land-based or marine rescue incidents. It allows a rescue line to be fired to access the victim without putting the rescuer at unnecessary risk.
The ResQmax uses patented air-thrust launcher technology to launch a polycarbonate projectile designed to throw one retrievable line to a victim in the water. The projectile launcher housing is injection-molded polycarbonate for durability and high impact resistance. The nonpyrotechnic projectiles are reusable and refillable using a service air pressure of 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi). The nose-cone contains an automatic inflating sling. The nosecone burst cap is designed to automatically deploy and inflate the rescue collar on contact with a body of water. There are two manual backup systems on the autoinflating sling to ensure fail-safe inflation, similar to the life vests carried for passengers on commercial airlines.
The ResQmax system comes in a variety of carrying kits that can be customized with specific line strengths, lengths, and projectiles for target end-user requirements. The base unit kit starts at about $2,250. The launch barrel has a 12-inch folding stock that locks in place for accurate aiming. When folded, it serves as a carrying handle. The line containers, which attach below the barrel, come in two sizes depending on the width and length of line used with the projectile. Each projectile is filled with its own charge of compressed air. The air-fill hose can be connected to an air compressor, a self-contained breathing apparatus cylinder, or a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus air tank to refill the projectiles. The system has three projectiles available: the water rescue sling projectile, the training projectile, and the luminescent training projectile.
Water rescue applications include fresh water rescues, salt water rescues, ocean-surf rescues, swift water rescues, ice rescues, and man-overboard rescues. In any of these situations, the rescuer can grab the rescue kit, remove the ResQmax, lock the stock in position, release the trigger safety, aim over the head of the victim, and fire the unit. The gun is capable of throwing an 8-mm water rescue line up to 300 feet in seconds from the safety of the shore. In extremely frigid water and in ice rescues, this fast deployment of a rescue line in seconds is critical when debilitating hypothermia can develop in a matter of minutes. The rescuer doesn’t have to venture out on “thin ice,” increasing the margin of safety so the rescuer doesn’t suddenly become part of the problem.
The sling projectile will deploy with the water-activated burst cap and the autoinflatable sling. The sling has sufficient buoyancy to support a 300-pound victim. The victim can put the horseshoe-shaped sling under the arms and around the chest or simply hold onto the sling. There is a bright strobe light that flashes to keep track of the victim during night rescues. Since the sling has a 300-foot tether, the rescuers can start pulling the victim to safety. Multiple victims can all take hold of the inflatable sling or even the line and be towed to shore. This rescue evolution can be quickly executed without the rescuer entering the water or setting foot on the ice.
In swift water rescue, the ResQmax can quickly launch the line to the team on the opposite bank of a river. The floating line spans the river for a zip line or stabilization line for the victims floating down from upstream, giving them something to hold on to. From there, a variety of swift water rescue techniques can be used to enhance the initial span.
The training projectile is used for ground rescue or to span open land spaces like a narrow canyon or gorge, where a heavy line can be required for long distances. It can also be used for ship-to-ship line operations. This projectile has a high-density urethane protective cover to reduce bounce when landing on hard surfaces and rocks. The line connected to this projectile can be used to hoist or assist a victim up a steep canyon or trail. It can also be used as a lead line, which could be tied to much stronger and heavier rescue rope for low- and high-angle rescue operations. And, as the name implies, this is the projectile used for target practice.
The third projectile is a luminescent training projectile used during night operations. This glow-in-the-dark projectile can be used in the same way as the other training projectile, including ship-to-ship line operations. The luminescent projectile can be recharged indefinitely with sunlight, incandescent light, fluorescent light, or ultraviolet light.
DISTANCE, PERFORMANCE, SAFETY
The water rescue retrievable line is a lighter-weight rope, but even with the inflatable sling, it can still launch to distances well over 300 feet. The ground rescue line-thrower setup uses a heavier line and can be launched to distances up to 400 feet.
The ResQmax has multishot capacity, meaning the patented nozzle valve permits any number of projectiles to be precharged and stored in the unit, allowing the deployment of multiple projectiles in rapid succession.
The launch safety mechanism is always on, resetting automatically when a projectile is loaded or inserted into the barrel. The projectile’s “push-click” engagement allows easy reloading—even in the dark. The pressure relief burst disc prevents unsafe pressure buildup that could result from exposure to extreme heat. The ResQmax is also designed to meet the requirements of National Fire Protection Association 1670, Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents.
The tactical versions of this line-throwing gun launch a grappling hook attached to a variety of lines or nylon webbing ladders for access during SWAT or military combat assaults. Although not intended for fire department rescues, I can see some out-of-the-box scenarios where the ladder line could be used for civilian rescues when aerial access isn’t possible or where ground ladders may fall short of the trapped occupant. A graphic illustration is the Dupont Plaza Hotel Fire that occurred on December 31, 1986, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fire was intentionally set on the first floor, but smoke enshrouded the 17-story high-rise hotel. Ninety-eight people lost their lives in the fire, and 140 were injured. Video footage of the fire can be found on YouTube. Occupants were trying to climb down the exterior balconies by any means possible. One or two roof ladders were used like pompier ladders to make a straight-ladder fire escape, but the majority of the hotel residents were free-climbing or tying bed sheets together for a makeshift rope. All these occupants were out of reach from any fire department ladder, and they were left to self-rescue or perish. This would be an ideal scenario for the ResQmax rope ladder to give occupants a more reliable apparatus to self-rescue.
The tactical ladder comes in three lengths: 30, 40, and 50 feet. It uses one-inch webbing for the beams and fiberglass rungs covered with nonslip neoprene for sure footing. The rungs are spaced out 12 inches on center with a ladder breaking strength of 4,800 pounds. The Tactical ResQmax and the Assault Launcher Max™ (ALM) units launch the ladder using a grappling hook. The VerTmax™ is a telescoping pole with a gooseneck ledger hook. The telescopic pole’s lifting force comes from a 2,000-psi compressed-air reservoir within the unit. This allows for multiple lifts from a single charge. The pole can be extended by a single rescuer with the squeeze of a lever.
Any tool that shoots a projectile will be fun to drill with. You won’t need to entice or reward the crew with Slurpees on this drill. My guess is your crew will be the ones dragging you out of your office for target practice. These innovative rescue tools are most impressive, and their applications are limited to your imagination. Just don’t shoot your eye out!
RAUL A. ANGULO is a captain (ret.) of Seattle (WA) Fire Department Ladder Co. 6 with more than 37 years of service. He is an international author and instructor and has been teaching at FDIC International since 1996. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.