Firefighter-Invented Rescue Tool: the Sling-Link™

At the 2000 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), I was chosen to moderate “Brennan and Bruno III,” a highlight in my career.

Someone asked Brennan what was the best technique (referring to a rescue carry) to rescue a victim. Brennan looked at Bruno with an “I don’t know … what do you think?” look and said something like, “In the heat of the moment, you just grab the victim and go and hope that whatever you grabbed doesn’t come off.” That comment stuck with me over the years, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Rescue carries are easy when they’re practiced in the comfort of your firehouse and there’s no urgency. It’s almost impossible to create a realistic training scenario with real smoke and fire. Full-size rescue dummies may weigh the same as an adult victim, but they’re stiff. A real unconscious person may be clothed or naked. They can be flaccid, heavy, and slippery. Naked victims or those wearing pajamas are difficult to manage. Most of us will go through our entire careers without actually making a real rescue. In my 37-year career, I’ve only been involved in three civilian rescues from fire. All three were elderly women, and all three were wearing nightgowns. When I was captain of Engine 33, we responded to a fire in South Seattle. My members were able to scoop up and carry two small, frail ladies out of their burning house. The rescue carries were fast and easy, but the women did not survive the fire.

Retired San Antonio (TX) Firefighter Ken Dempsey is the inventor of the Sling-Link Multiple Application Service Tool (MAST). (Photos by author.)
Retired San Antonio (TX) Firefighter Ken Dempsey is the inventor of the Sling-Link Multiple Application Service Tool (MAST). (Photos by author.)

Years earlier when I was a lieutenant on Engine 9, we responded to an apartment fire in downtown Seattle. On our arrival, an elderly lady was calling for help at a second-floor window. The fire was in the adjacent unit, but smoke had filled the hallway and was now coming out from her window. It looked like it was going to be a classic ground ladder rescue. My members threw a 26-foot ladder up to the window. One firefighter went up and into the room to assist the elderly lady through the window and onto the ladder. I was the second one up the ladder to assist her down. All of a sudden, her foot slipped and she fell onto the ladder, straddling the rungs. This was obviously an awkward and painful position for a victim on the ladder. Unlike the previous example, this lady was large and heavy. Though I kept her from falling off the ladder, I was not able to prevent her leg from sliding between the rungs. So, learn this lesson: If you have to take elderly people down a ground ladder, pay close attention to their foot placement on each rung, all the way down. Don’t assume because they safely manage a few rungs they know what they’re doing.

The way we were situated, we did not have the leverage to lift her back up onto the ladder. I told my other two firefighters to grab a second 26-foot ladder and place it next to ours. I figured the four of us would be able to lift her. That proved to be impossible. The two firefighters on the second ladder could not reach over enough to lift the victim without the risk of falling themselves. Long story short, we ended up staying on the ladder for the duration of the fire. After the fire was out, my members entered her unit from the hallway. It took three firefighters to lift her back into the window with me pushing from below. The elderly lady was in pain, but she did not suffer any serious injury. We ended up taking her down the interior stairs on a chair to a waiting ambulance.

The Sling-Link is a series of one-inch heavy-duty webbing looped and interlocked to form a chain of five rings. Each loop is overlaid nine inches with six rows of heavy-duty stitching to make a ring circumference of 44 inches. Fully extended, the Sling-Link is 9½ feet with a minimum breaking strength of 4,500 pounds.
The Sling-Link is a series of one-inch heavy-duty webbing looped and interlocked to form a chain of five rings. Each loop is overlaid nine inches with six rows of heavy-duty stitching to make a ring circumference of 44 inches. Fully extended, the Sling-Link is 9½ feet with a minimum breaking strength of 4,500 pounds.

What should have been our moment of glory ended up being a rather embarrassing evolution. It’s a good thing the media never saw it. I’ve often thought of what I could have done differently. What impressed me was our inability to get a good hold of her. There was no way to grab her without causing pain. Anytime we grabbed her nightgown, it ripped. We couldn’t grab her skin without pinching her, and we couldn’t grab her arms without pulling them out of their sockets. In real life, rescue carries can be hard!

The Sling-Link™

Veteran firefighter Ken Dempsey of the San Antonio (TX) Fire Department (now retired) realized there had to be a better way to perform rescue carries and save lives. He came up with a simple concept and tool called the Sling-Link Multiple Application Service Tool (MAST™). The Sling-Link is a series of one-inch heavy-duty nylon webbing looped and interlocked to form a chain of five rings. The one-inch webbing is overlaid nine inches and has six rows of heavy-duty stitching to form the loop. Each loop is 22 inches in diameter and has a circumference of 44 inches. When stretched from end to end, the Sling-Link chain is 110 inches-just over nine feet. The two end loops are red, and the center loop is green. The other two loops are yellow. The high-visibility color scheme is essential for easy application of the MAST, which I’ll cover shortly.

The Sling-Link was originally designed for the “Save Our Own” program and rapid intervention teams (RIT), but it is also an excellent tool for civilian rescues. The Sling-Link MAST complies with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1983, Standard for Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services (2006 ed.), as a personal use or general use auxiliary harness and is an OSHA-approved lifting sling.

The Slink-Link can be carried in the rapid deployment pouch, but this rugged, portable tool is also compact to fit in a bunker coat pocket or a cargo pocket. However you decide to carry it, make sure it is easily accessible. Simply pull on the rapid deployment strap and the Sling-Link quickly pulls out of the pouch. It is easy to manipulate with gloves
The Slink-Link can be carried in the rapid deployment pouch, but this rugged, portable tool is also compact to fit in a bunker coat pocket or a cargo pocket. However you decide to carry it, make sure it is easily accessible. Simply pull on the rapid deployment strap and the Sling-Link quickly pulls out of the pouch. It is easy to manipulate with gloves.

The Sling-Link can replace the simple webbing carried in a firefighter’s pocket because it has unlimited applications. Its primary function is for linear rescue drags, but it can be used in a variety of rescue operations including, rigging, strapping, tying off, tying down, towing, hoisting, lowering, climbing, extending your reach, rapid egress, personal escape maneuvers, and four-point lifting for rapid stairwell casualty removal. It can be used in confined space rescues in lieu of the handcuff knot or other rescue rope evolutions. The applications are only limited by your imagination.

Police and S.W.A.T. teams immediately recognized the benefits of this innovative rescue tool-so did the military. The Sling-Link MAST is currently being used all over the world by the United States military special operations and rescue teams for tactical and close combat casualty extrication. The Slink-Link is rugged, reliable, compact, and portable and fits into a pocket or pouch.

The Sling-Link MAST comes in three different models. The original SL was made for firefighters and comes in the high-visibility safety color scheme: red, yellow, and green. The military Combat Rescue Sling (CRS) and the Generation II CRS have the low-visibility color scheme of black, tan, and green. Although the military versions have slightly different specifications, the key features and functions remain the same. They are all OSHA-approved and NFPA-compliant, and all models come with a MAST rapid deployment pouch. All Slink-Links have a minimum breaking strength of 4,500 pounds.

Once the red loops are set around the legs, move up to the yellow loops. Take one arm and put it through a yellow loop. Take the opposite arm and place it through the other yellow loop. Work the yellow loops up the arm and over the shoulders like you're putting on suspenders.
Once the red loops are set around the legs, move up to the yellow loops. Take one arm and put it through a yellow loop. Take the opposite arm and place it through the other yellow loop. Work the yellow loops up the arm and over the shoulders like you’re putting on suspenders.

The Firefighter SL model has a vertical capacity strength of 1,000 pounds, a choker capacity of 800 pounds, a basket capacity of 2,000 pounds, and a minimum breaking strength of 4,500 pounds.

Firefighter Applications

Firefighter rescue is becoming an industry in itself. YouTube.com is full of videos showing different variations of how to perform firefighter rescues, self-rescues, and firefighter rescue drags. Some are simple while others are complex, ineffective, and impractical. Some techniques require rope and rescue hardware, others incorporate the SCBA harness assembly or the built-in arm straps within the bunker coat liner. Using ropes or webbing requires tying some sort of knot, and it takes some time to assemble. When was the last time you had to tie a handcuff knot in a hurry? If I had to tie it right now in a hot, smoky environment, it would take some effort and concentration. That’s what I love about the Slink-Link-no knots! And, it is fast to apply. When I saw this tool demonstrated at FDIC, I knew I had to have one right then. It would make my job so much easier.

How It Works

The Sling-Link is primarily a linear horizontal dragging device and can be carried in your bunker coat, your pants pocket, or its rapid deployment pouch. When you come across an unconscious civilian or firefighter, get him in the supine position. Remove the Sling-Link, and separate the five-loop chain. Without lifting the victim and starting at the feet, begin by taking one red loop at the end of the Sling-Link and placing one leg through the red loop and then the other leg through the other red loop. It doesn’t matter which leg or red loop you start with as long as you don’t twist the chains. Keep the Sling-Link on top of the victim.

Take the center green loop and pull it over the firefighter's head. It should go right over the helmet. If the Slink-Link gets snagged up, remove the helmet and pull the green loop over the head, then replace the helmet for thermal and impact protection.
Take the center green loop and pull it over the firefighter’s head. It should go right over the helmet. If the Slink-Link gets snagged up, remove the helmet and pull the green loop over the head, then replace the helmet for thermal and impact protection.

While lifting one leg at a time, move the red loops all the way up into the crotch at the top of the femur. You’re creating a harness. The next two loops in the chain are the yellow loops. Take one arm and put it through a yellow loop. Place the other arm through the other yellow loop. Work these loops up under the armpits and over the shoulders like you’re putting on suspenders. Then take the green center loop and pull it over the victim’s head. This is your handle. Pull on the green loop and it will cinch up all the other loops into a snug, comfortable harness. Now you are ready to pull, drag, or hoist the victim to safety. That is all there is to it. This is a very fast evolution, and you can safely secure any victim-even a down firefighter in full gear-faster than anyone with a rope.

The green center loop goes right over a down firefighter’s helmet, but sometimes I’ve had difficulty because the Slink-Link gets snagged on helmet hardware or doesn’t clear the crown. Make sure the red and yellow loops are up as high as possible to give maximum reach for the green loop. It also depends on the size of the firefighter. If this happens, simply remove the helmet, pull the green loop over the head, and reattach the helmet for thermal and impact protection. This is not an issue with civilian rescues. This is the only drawback to the Sling-Link. If there’s a next generation, I suggest that the manufacturer increase the circumference of the center green loop.

Pull on the green loop to take up the slack, and all the loops will cinch up and envelop the firefighter into a harness. There is no need to tie any knots, use any fasteners, or deal with the SCBA straps
Pull on the green loop to take up the slack, and all the loops will cinch up and envelop the firefighter into a harness. There is no need to tie any knots, use any fasteners, or deal with the SCBA straps.

I modified my Sling-Link by adding a quick-snap carabiner and a small loop of rescue rope threaded through a six-inch piece of aluminum tubing. I attach the carabiner to the green loop of the Sling-Link. This makes for a nice sturdy handle for heavy drags. I could also use the handle like a stirrup in case I need to boost myself up. I carry my Sling-Link in the right cargo pocket of my bunker pants. I know exactly where it is and I have it ready to deploy for a rescue-the primary responsibility of a truckie.

Remember, the Slink-Link is for RIT or primary searches. It is not a substitute for when a patient harness or a Class III rescue harness is required.

If I could have had a Slink-Link back at that downtown fire with the lady stuck on the ladder, the outcome would have been different. Picture it: Even with the lady straddling the rungs, I could have properly placed the Sling-Link onto the victim without moving her. I would have called for a 35-foot ground ladder to be fully extended over the 26-foot ladder. I would have created a high directional turn by running a rescue rope over the top rung of the 35. I would have tied the end of the rope to the green loop of the Slink-Link. From the ground, two firefighters could have hoisted the victim off the rungs until her inside leg cleared the ladder. After situating her back on the ladder, we could have assisted her down the ladder or lowered her down to the ground. Either way, she would have been safely and comfortably harnessed in the Sling-Link.

 A carabiner attaches a rope and tube handle to the Sling-Link. This accessory allows for a better grip for a single rescuer. It can also be attached to any link and used as a foot stirrup. Clipping the green center loop to a rope system with a carabiner allows the Slink-Link to be used as an emergency hoist sling for vertical lifts
A carabiner attaches a rope and tube handle to the Sling-Link. This accessory allows for a better grip for a single rescuer. It can also be attached to any link and used as a foot stirrup. Clipping the green center loop to a rope system with a carabiner allows the Slink-Link to be used as an emergency hoist sling for vertical lifts.

Over the years, I have carried and discarded a lot of tools in my pockets, but next to my hook and bailout system, the Slink-Link is the most important tool I carry. It is the essence of my job-to rescue someone from a fire.

RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 35 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

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