Personal Safety Equipment Broadens Its Reach Among Fire Departments

By Alan M. Petrillo

More and more departments, large and small, are moving toward providing firefighters with personal safety gear often referred to as bailout kits.

Some styles of this equipment are embedded in turnout pants, like internal harnesses, while others are separate units. But, each type of escape gear is there to give firefighters the ability to save themselves if it becomes necessary.

Growing Market

Matt Hunt, rescue safety market manager for Sterling Rope Co., says Sterling has seen a continued growth in the personal escape market for firefighters. Fire departments are getting used to the idea of issuing personal escape gear to firefighters doing high-rise work, Hunt says, especially those in residential structures like apartment buildings where there are no fire suppression systems like standpipes or sprinklers.

“A fall off of the third story of a structure can be as bad as a longer fall,” Hunt says, “depending on what you land on. Realistically we think every interior firefighter should have access to a personal escape system.”

Sterling Rope offers the component parts that go into a personal escape system as well as complete systems themselves. “We are now producing our own hook, the Lightning hook,” he says, “made out of aluminum instead of steel, to cut the weight by a third, and with a gated hitching slot like a carabiner where you clip in instead of having to thread the rope through a slot.”

Sterling Rope makes the F4 Escape Tech kit
Sterling Rope makes the F4 Escape Tech kit that includes its newly
developed Lightning hook, shown here being deployed. (Photo
courtesy of Sterling Rope Co.)

The Sterling-built F4 Escape Tech kit includes 50 feet of Escape Tech rope, an F4 escape device, a SAFE-D three-stage carabiner, and a Lightning hook enclosed in a low-profile bag that hangs below a firefighter’s SCBA. Hunt notes that the system weighs 3.2 pounds, and each component is UL-certified to NFPA 1983, Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services. The F4 Escape Tech system also can be configured with a Crosby hook instead of the Lightning hook.

Some departments prefer to build their own kits depending on their needs assessments, Hunt points out, and many of them pick and choose specific pieces of equipment from different manufacturers to develop their own customized personal escape kit. “Most personal escape kits are aftermarket solutions,” Hunt adds, “but over time, we will see more integrated solutions where the entire system is designed as a unit to work together. We’re also seeing a trend toward integration with some self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) companies offering escape systems built onto their SCBA.”

SCBA Integrated System

Mark Williamson, global product manager for supplied air products at Avon Protection Systems Inc., says his company makes a personal escape system that attaches to its Deltair SCBA lumbar pad with two straps. “If it’s needed, you could drop the SCBA, hold the release straps (which keep the rescue belt on), anchor yourself, and use the descending device,” Williamson says.

The Avon system is custom built through a Fire Innovations design, he notes, to include 50 feet of Sterling TSafe Technora 7.5-millimeter rope attached to a carabiner, anchor hook, and descending device. “The system can be used as a standalone rescue belt too,” Williamson points out.

Integrated Class II Harness
Lion makes the Integrated Class II
Harness as part of its turnout pants,
located between the outer shell and
inner liner. (Photo courtesy of Lion.)

Harness Systems

Claire Miller, vice president of marketing for Honeywell First Responder Products, says her company’s integrated safety and rescue harness that is built into turnout pants has become very popular with firefighters. “In addition to the harnesses, we also created a rope bag system for the rope and descent gear that make up the bailout kit,” Miller adds.

Honeywell makes the Class II Spider harness system as part of its turnout pants that incorporates adjustable leg loops, the Class II Patriot harness system that provides for the use of a tether and ladder hook, and the Life Grip Ladder and Escape Belt configured like the Spider Harness but without the leg loops.

Karen Lehtonen, vice president of innovation and product management for Lion, says the market trend is seeing broadening use of harness systems for firefighters. “In some departments, every firefighter gets a harness and bailout kit,” Lehtonen says, “while in other departments only specialized functions might get the equipment. They check the risks faced in operations to determine if there’s a need for the harnesses.”

Lion offers two types of personal escape systems: the Integrated Class II Harness and the Escape Belt. Each is used with Lion’s turnout pants. The Integrated Class II Harness features a single point of attachment for improved functionality, Lehtonen points out, and ergonomically positioned leg loops for increased comfort. The harness is located between the outer shell and turnout pants’ inner liner system to maintain the integrity of the personal protective equipment. The harness, made from Kevlar®, connects to a rope, carabiner, and descender to complete the escape system, which is designated as an NFPA 1983 Class II life safety harness.

Lehtonen says Lion’s Escape Belt is an emergency self-rescue device that fastens at the waist outside of the turnout pants. The belt, made of two-inch Kevlar webbing and certified to meet NFPA 1983, is positioned through belt loops on the pants and fastens with a hook-and-ring closure. Combined with a rope, descender, and carabiner, it functions as an escape system. Both the Class II harness and escape belt work well with other types of personal rescue systems, Lehtonen observes.

She also notes that NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2013 ed.), requires that life safety harnesses incorporated in turnout gear meet more stringent requirements. “If a manufacturer installs a harness into turnout gear, that harness must meet the same flame and heat resistance levels as the turnout gear does,” Lehtonen says. “That might drive a bit of a change for some makers.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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