Throw Back to Basics: Z-Rig

Carabiners and other tools required for this rope rescue situation.

By Brian Zaitz

Rope rescue is one the most common technical rescues responses firefighters will encounter on the job. The use of ropes goes well beyond that of hanging off a cliff or picking a victim off failed scaffolding. Ropes are used to lower and raise equipment and patients up inclines, for instance. One of the most commonly used systems is the 3:1, often referred to as the Z-Rig for the “Z”-like shape it forms. This simple hauling system can be quickly assembled and deployed to haul a stokes basket up a slope during a vehicle rescue, or attached to a main line for hauling a patient in a half-back out of manhole. It is a simple, easy system that should be part of your rescue arsenal.


To create a Z-Rig–or any system for that matter–start with an anchor. This anchor should be sturdy, secure, and not moving. If you choose to use an apparatus, make sure you follow the lock-out/tag out procedure; this may seem silly, but the last thing you want is your anchor pulling up or rolling back with guys on the line. Once you have secured your anchor, attach the anchor strap or webbing loop connected with a carabiner. If possible, attach a multi-plate to the anchor to facilitate additional lines and attachments. As with any rescue, always have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C; the multi-plate allows for these plans to be quickly implemented, if needed.

For the construction of the Z-Rig, attach a single pulley to the anchor and feed the line through. Next, form a bight on the non-load side of the rope and attach another pulley. Connect the pulley to the load side of the rope using a carabiner and a prusik cord or commercial ascender device. Once attached, attach another prusik on the load side at the pulley nearest the anchor. The Z-Rig is complete and ready to be used for hauling equipment and patients.

Take the time your next tour to tie a few knots and set up the Z-Rig. Stay safe. 

Download this training bulletin as a PDF HERE (331 KB).

Brian Zaitz is a 14-year student of the fire service, currently assigned as the captain/training officer with the Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District. Brian is an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC as well as instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy.  Brian holds several degrees, including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelors in fire science management, and a masters in human resource development. Brian is currently and accredited chief training officer and student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.


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