Outfit Yourself with a Personal Escape System

By Daniel DiRenzo

The personal escape system has become a critical component of a firefighter’s personal protective equipment (PPE) during the past several years. This has been brought to the forefront of firefighter safety concerns because of several firefighter close calls and unfortunate line-of-duty deaths relating to firefighters being trapped on upper floors. Outfitting firefighters with these systems enhances firefighters’ safety on the fireground to avert life-threatening injuries or death from occurring.

Choosing the System
When it comes to deciding which personal escape system to add to your PPE, the decision depends on what will work best for you and your department. There is no specific harness or escape system that will work for every fire department or firefighter. There are so many different features and options that can be chosen to fit each department’s and user’s needs that there is no one size and/or brand that fits all. Not all fire departments operate the same, are equipped the same, or have the same response demographics. So, each department needs to determine what type/brand of personal escape system setup will work the best for it.

If you are trying to determine and select the best harness and system that will work for you, take all the associated factors into consideration. This process requires you to do your research and fact finding to find what fits your needs. Take a research-and-development approach with the process, focusing not on manufacturer specifics but on generic capabilities. Considering that there are so many intricacies within these systems, you must take a detailed and thorough approach into each component when establishing your specifications.

The Systems
Independent firefighter personal escape systems can be broken down by the harness/belt, anchor device, descent device, escape line, auxiliary hardware, and carrying method. Individually research each these components as you proceed. Personal escape systems can be purchased as complete certified systems or you can buy individually certified components to make a complete system. Contact the various escape system manufacturers/dealers for additional information and to conduct a demonstration or trial for your department.

When completing your specification process, don’t forget to include training. Some escape system manufacturers require training for all users while others only recommend it. All harness and escape system users should receive some form of training in their use no matter what. This falls as a liability onto the department should a firefighter be equipped with a harness and escape system and not know how to successfully deploy it under extreme situations.

There are several authorized escape system trainers throughout the country that can provide this training either as end-user or train-the-trainer options. These programs can be written right into your specification so they are included in your final purchase cost or the training programs can be completed as a separate specification and bid package. Training should most definitely be completed prior to any firefighter being issued a harness or escape system—no exceptions!

Try Before You Buy
Selecting and specifying personal harnesses and escape systems are not and should not be easy tasks. Properly selecting personal harness and escape systems is a very time-consuming but valuable process that could mean life or death factor for you or one of your members. There are many resources to reference to determine what fits your department’s needs. All personal harnesses and escape systems fall under National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1983, Standard for Life Safety & Rope Equipment. Refer to this standard to see what is required and to verify compliancy. Seek out information from other departments that have undergone this process to see what factors impacted their decision and whether they have any suggestions.

Have several of your members wear and test these systems, incorporate them into your existing PPE, and use them during some of your daily operations and training to make sure the harness and system will work for you. This isn’t like purchasing a nozzle or hydraulic tool. This is purchasing a piece of equipment that could possibly determine whether your fellow firefighters will make it home alive. Don’t let anyone else make the decision for you. You make the decision because only you know what work will work best for your firefighters.

For more on this topic, see Selecting Personal Harness and Escape Systems.

Listen to Dan DiRenzo discuss selecting personal escape systems:

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DANIEL DIRENZO is a lieutenant with the Cherry Hill (NJ) Fire Department, assigned to the Field Command Office. He is also a lieutenant/department training officer with the Bellmawr (NJ) Fire Department and a rescue specialist with New Jersey USAR Task Force 1. He is the managing member of Safety & Survival Training, LLC. He has been featured in Fire Engineering’s “Training Minutes” on personal harness use on fireengineering.com.

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