2009 Good For Escape Equipment

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The Sterling F4 hands-free descending device, rigged with a Crosby hook and Sterling FireTech rope.
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Lion Apparel makes its Integrated Rescue Harness, built into turnout pants between the outer shell and liner.
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Globe Manufacturing’s Internal Harness Pants integrate a Class II harness into turnout pants by creating floating leg loops attached to the waist belt.

Firefighters came out winners in terms of personal safety during 2009, as a number of innovative products were introduced that improved their ability and readiness to bail out when confronted with a life-threatening situation.

Several manufacturers tackled the issue of personal safety in different ways – personal escape devices, complete escape systems and personal escape gear built as an integral part in turnout pants. And equipment makers say improvements to existing personal rescue gear, as well as new innovations, are in store for 2010.

Sterling Rope Company of Biddeford, Maine, debuted a sleek, lightweight and low-profile auto-locking descent control device in 2009 called the F4 that allows a firefighter to make a hands-free bailout if the situation warrants it.

“What’s unique about the F4 is how simple and intuitive it is,” said Carolyn Brodsky, Sterling’s president.

The device, she said, is certified to the most recent edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s 1983 Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services. “It also is certified,” she said, “as a personal escape system when used with our FireTech rope and a Crosby hook, which is the system FDNY [the New York City Fire Department] uses.”

With the F4, the rope is pre-rigged by threading it through the device’s four holes. In the last hole, the rope also passes through a release handle, which, when squeezed, releases the rope to allow horizontal movement or descent. While the F4 is auto-locking and allows a firefighter to employ a hands-free bailout after setting an anchor, the firefighter still must use both hands to operate the device – one hand on the F4 and the brake hand on the free end of the rope to control the speed of descent.

Sterling opened a new full-sized training center in its Maine plant this year. Brodsky said it consists of a 20-by-60-foot classroom backed up to a 30-by-30-foot training area.

“The training area has a 12-by-14-foot opening in the second floor which allows firefighters to bail out to the first floor using windows, parapets and regular roof edges,” she said.

Training Center

Anchors include old-style radiators, as well as standard anchors in the floor and the ceiling. Brodsky plans to install a man-sized drop down tube between the second and first floors to simulate confined space work.

She noted the training center already has attracted fire departments, industrial clients and rope rescue experts, especially those seeking to be trained on Sterling’s F4 device.

Brodsky said Sterling’s staff is excited about the direction personal safety equipment is headed and predicted new products in the near future.

“We’re working on a smaller, lighter and stronger version of the F4,” she said, “as well as military rope products that are coming out of the work we’re doing for the fire service.”

Internal Harness

Mike Mordecai, director of business development for Globe Manufacturing in Pittsfield, N.H., said the introduction of Globe’s IH (internal harness) pants required the invention of a new system for putting a Class II harness inside turnout pants.
Globe’s system allows the leg loops to float on the waist belt of the harness.

“The floating leg loops allow the waist belt to be tightened and still have the loops slip along it,” Mordecai said. “The system also allows the loops to slide up and down to be in the right position for descending.”

The internal harness is an integral part of the turnout pants, which have added length and fullness in the seat and the knees for mobility.

“Firefighters are bending all the time or are stepping up and down,” Mordecai said. “When you bend your knee, you have five inches of skin and wrinkles to accommodate that action, so we build in five inches of length and fullness behind the knee to eliminate any restriction.”

Likewise, he said, eight inches in length is needed in the seat when a firefighter bends a knee, so Globe added that length to the chassis of the pants.

“It’s a lightweight system that allows the pants and harness to be fastened simultaneously,” Mordecai pointed out, “and the pants also have a pocket pouch that can hold a Petzl EXO [individual evacuation system] and an anchor hook.”

Breakaway Tabs

Mordecai said he expects to see wearable personal escape protection available for all firefighters in the near future.

“An external harness always was hard to wear, which was an excuse in the past,” he said. “With internal harnesses, you get away from that argument because they’re unobtrusive, but still provide real protection.”

Karen Lehtonen, director of products for Lion Apparel Protective Systems in Dayton, Ohio, said Lion brought out the Integrated Rescue Harness this year. It is a National Fire Protection Association 1983 life safety rope and equipment standard Class II harness built into turnout pants between the outer shell and liner, she said. The Class II designation refers to a rappel/rescue seat harness.

The system has a split-bellows pocket, secured by a hook and loop attachment on the side of the pants that holds the rope, descending device and carabineer. Breakaway tabs stabilize the system and prevent snagging when in use.

Lehtonen said the harness engages when a firefighter pulls on the turnout pants. To use the escape system, a firefighter pulls the tether and descender from the pocket and connects to an anchor. The firefighter then pulls the removable pocket off the pants and throws it out the window or off the roof, following it down.

A Variety Of Needs

Another personal escape system debuting in 2009 was the Warrior Escape Belt System by Sperian Fire of Smithfield, R.I. The belt, according to the company, meets standards established by NFPA and the National Institute for Occupational  Safety and Health and is certified by Underwriters Laboratories as an escape and rappelling system integrated with a SCBA. It allows the SCBA to be jettisoned, while retaining the belt around a firefighter’s waist.

The system, according to Sperian Product Manger Jeff Shipley, is designed to meet a variety of firefighter needs and is convertible in seconds from a standard NFPA-certified escape belt to an NFPA ladder belt to a bailout system to a rappelling system.

A new entry into the personal escape gear market has been made by Fire-Dex of Medina, Ohio, according to Chrissy Foster, the company’s marketing coordinator.

Fire-Dex introduced an integrated harness in turnout pants by creating a non-removable additional pocket within the bunker pants, behind the usual pocket on the side, Foster said.

“The pocket runs from the hip to the bottom of the standard pocket and stores the rope,” she said. “There also are pockets and a hook and loop system to house the carabiner, descent device and Crosby hook, all contained by a Velcro closure.”

The harness comes out through small slits in the front of the turnout pants to allow the D ring to hang on the outside.

“To deploy the system, you rip open a corner of a pocket, grab the hook or the carabineer, connect to your anchor and bail out,” Foster said.

With the number of new personal escape devices and systems on the market, there’s been a bigger push from fire departments and gear manufacturers to have the NFPA streamline its guidelines.

Lehtonen of Lion Apparel is a member of the NFPA 1983 Special Operations Clothing and Technical Committee.

“Now there are so many more of those devices on the market and there’s a lot more familiarity with them, so there’s a movement for the NFPA to make it easier to determine exactly what an escape system is and what tests need to be done to qualify as an escape system,” Lehtonen said. “I think in the future we’ll be seeing more guidance in those areas, and there also may be major changes in how a system is allowed to be put together. Doing so might allow much more flexibility for the firefighters using the systems.”

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