By Michael N. Ciampo
Part 1 (October 2012) talked about carrying an essential piece of equipment: utility rope, mostly for those odd jobs that spring up on the fireground when we don’t have time to run back to the apparatus to get our normal complement of rope. I’m sure many are saying, “Just where are we supposed to carry another essential item? Our bunker coats and pants pockets are already full of equipment” or “Great, more weight to carry.” Utility rope’s many uses—hoisting tools and hoselines, venting windows, and tying up mattresses—make it beneficial to carry. Firefighters should also consider carrying another essential type of rope: a personal safety rope.
Face it: Firefighters are going to get trapped; it’s a part of the profession and, unfortunately, it happens. Sure, we all train in how to operate safely, but we can’t control every factor at every fire, so we better start training on what to do when it does happen. Some of you may be thinking, “We only have two-story dwellings and we get plenty of ladders to the building, so why do we need a personal safety rope?” How many firefighters showed up on your last odor of smoke call when it turned out to be a job? Did all four sides of the building get ladders for secondary means of egress as crews put themselves in danger while searching the second floor, or are you operating short-staffed and ladders are a luxury? Sure, we can hang out the window with the knee and arm locked over the sill and wait for a ladder to reach us and hope we don’t have to visit the burn center. Maybe we could perform a vertical drop from the second floor if time and conditions permit and hope we survive, but aren’t there easier ways to reduce our risk of a serious injury or death?
If you’re lucky enough to have a ladder properly placed at the second-floor window (at or below the sill and not protruding through the opening), you can perform a head-first ladder slide if you have to exit the environment quickly. You don’t believe in this tactic? Well then, you must be uninformed and haven’t seen the numerous photos or videos of firefighters performing this tactic in an actual emergency! Some solid advice on this subject: Attend a class that includes a hands-on portion, and learn the various techniques associated with this maneuver. Then tuck it away in your “toolbox,” and practice it from time to time; it just may save your life. If you doubt me, I’ll introduce you to some firefighters who’ve performed it at an actual fire and they’ll give you their opinions on the value of the tactic.
Now onto what may be a more controversial subject—outfitting firefighters with either a personal escape system or rope. Regardless of the cost factor, the run ratio to fire ratio, or whether you believe it, each firefighter on the fireground needs to be equipped with one. However, to many of us, this is an invaluable tool that might be awkward to carry at first, but once you get used to it or hear of a firefighter using it, you’ll know why you have that piece of “personal insurance.” With today’s technology, new and improved ropes, rope bags, anchors, and descending devices are always being updated, redesigned, and created. Some departments have decided to equip each firefighter with his own personal safety system, or the bunker gear has a system incorporated into it; others have attached safety ropes in bags to the self-contained breathing apparatus. All systems work, as long as you train your members in the proper way to deploy the system and continue retraining so it becomes second nature to them—when you need it, you can deploy it in seconds. Whatever system you’re using, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for inspection and periodic repacking. Remember, it’s a tool like all our other tools—it needs to be in top condition if you’re going to depend on it for saving your life.
Some of you may operate in vertical cities, where one-story to complex multistory buildings are common; but don’t we all have buildings with difficult or no access to the rear or where a drop-off exists and your two-story structure is now more than three to four stories high in the rear? Or perhaps you arrive at a private dwelling set back off the roadway a hundred yards or an enclosed shaft exists in the center of the building with no access other than windows. How quickly will you be able to get ladders to those locations? Ladders are great secondary means of egress for firefighters—but only if they are placed onto the building.
What insurance policy are you equipping your firefighters with to ensure everyone goes home? Learn by example from the six firefighters in New York City who were forced to rapidly exit through the windows of a multiple dwelling because of the severity of the fire. Do not forget the supreme sacrifice of our fallen brothers; heed the lessons learned from our critically injured brothers who highlight through their teachings the need for ROPE for all.
Fire departments must provide members with clothing and equipment to protect them from the hazards to which they respond or are likely to be exposed. It has been said: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Are we listening?
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.