The Mechanical Advantage Tarp


To remain proficient and increase efficiency during technical rescue training, our shift developed a mechanical advantage tarp (MAT). This is not a new idea; there are a variety of tarps in use throughout the fire service for a variety of things including hazardous materials, decontamination, and equipment staging. These tarps often serve as a “memory jogger” and a template for the proper layout of equipment. The MAT uses the same idea to show the correct layout of a variety of mechanical advantage systems.

There are many incidents where using mechanical advantage systems will make moving a patient or personnel more convenient and safer. It also eases the raising and lowering of equipment and personnel. Some personnel may be apprehensive about using mechanical advantage systems because of their perceived complexity. The MAT can be deployed to help alleviate some of these concerns.

Because of the limited staffing that many in our department faced on our initial response, we needed a way to maximize the use of our personnel. For years, we had used a laminated index card showing drawings of various mechanical advantage systems. These cards were attached to the technical rescue bags (photo 1). This card system worked fairly well, but we couldn’t help but think that there was a better way.

(1) Photos by author.

In most communities, technical rescue incidents are highrisk/lowfrequency type incidents. Large fire departments often rely on dedicated crews assigned to technical rescue. Many other departments use a multitiered response to technical rescue incidents. Often, initialarriving companies may be used to assist the laterarriving technical rescue team. In addition to securing the scene and retrieving equipment, the firstresponding companies may use the MAT to assist with the construction of mechanical advantage systems.

The MAT can be constructed on shift with minimal cost. Use a standard lightweight four × sixfoot polyvinyl tarp available at local home improvement centers to serve as the platform for diagramming the mechanical advantage systems. Fold the tarp lengthwise into four quarters, which gives you the option of drawing four separate systems, or one system per side (photo 2).


Each mechanical advantage system can be carefully laid out and traced with a permanent marker. It is important that the marker does not contact the rope or any of the hardware. Many felttipped markers contain chemicals that may damage the rope. Annotate the direction of the haul and the location of the anchors and load. Label each system with common terminology to eliminate confusion (photos 3, 4).


Following initial introduction and training on the MAT, many of our firefighters were able to assemble the systems with ease, even those members who were not part of the technical rescue team. We also received positive response from many members, who said it made the systems easier to understand and eliminated the potential for errors. Ultimately, it has given the company officer another tool for his toolbox and eased some of the previously perceived complexity of assembling these systems.

This is not a substitute for formal and ongoing technical rescue training, but the MAT can be a valuable asset to many companies. Technical rescue can be extremely dangerous and must not be attempted without proper training and equipment. Although virtually anyone can assemble these systems, they must be checked by at least two other qualified rescuers prior to placing anyone on line.

JEFF JANUS is a 20year fire service veteran. He is a lieutenant in a small suburb of Chicago and an instructor at Southwest United Fire Districts Fire Academy. He is an instructor III, a fire officer II, and a member of a technical rescue team. He is also a member of the Southside Fraternal Order of Leatherheads (FOOLS).

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