Downed Firefighter Rescue Harness

BY SCOTT YOCCO

Many progressive fire departments have embraced the rapid intervention team (RIT) concept and developed simple and effective rescue techniques involving the handcuff knot, short pieces of webbing, looped webbing, or rope carried in turnout pockets to expedite removing downed firefighters from an occupancy. Although these techniques are helpful in effecting a rescue, the most difficult challenges in such operations are deploying such a device in a hostile environment and then removing a firefighter from the hazard.

As with many simple solutions to complex fire service issues, an alternative came from within. As a member of the Racine (WI) Fire Department, I obtained a patent in 2000 for a harness to assist firefighters in rescuing a downed partner. The simple design later proved to function easily under the worst conditions.

The self-contained harness idea was developed during a haz-mat training scenario. The hot zone was approximately 100 yards from the decontamination area. As I approached the hot zone with another entry team member, I realized that if my partner went down, the backup team would need precious time to go on air, don a fully encapsulating suit, enter the hot zone, and render assistance. So, I envisioned a piece of webbing that could be cinched around a victim’s shoulders but wondered where and how to carry it. An entry team member already has enough to carry: radio, air monitoring equipment, tool kit, and flashlight. Haz-mat team members wearing Level A suits do not have the luxury of coat or pants pockets as do those wearing turnout gear. In this case, the webbing would be stored in a vest that would be worn over the Level A suit to enable rescuers to drag the wearer to safety.


Photo 1 courtesy of author; others by Liana Cooper.

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If this would work as a vest on a haz-mat suit, I thought it could also work as a preloaded harness in firefighters’ turnout coats for their own rescue. The Yocco Rescue Harness was the result. Referred to as the “Yoc Strap” by the members at the station, it is a basic loop constructed of 11/2-inch KevlarT webbing that fits be-tween the outer shell and the inside liner of a standard turnout coat. The rescuer accesses the harness through an opening in the back of the coat collar, which is protected by a flap of protective material held down with hook-and-loop material (photos 1, 2). The materials used to modify the turnout coat’s outer shell meet or exceed the current standard for coat construction and so do not compromise the garment’s integrity.

When the harness is needed, the rescuer simply lifts the flap on the back of the collar of the firefighter to be rescued, grabs the strap, and pulls, causing the harness to cinch securely around the downed member’s shoulders and providing the rescuer with a secure hold on the victim for removal.


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The harness’s stitched overlapped ends have been UL tested and are rated for 2,000 pounds; the 11/2-inch Kevlar has a 9,000-pound tensile strength. In testing for rapid removal, dragging a downed member, or pulling a member up a staircase, the harness proved an invaluable time saver. Keep in mind this harness is designed only for pulling or dragging victims.

For moving a firefighter up a staircase, the stair drag-lift maneuver uses one rescuer at the top and one at the bottom of the stairs. The harness provides a lifting point for the upper firefighter, allowing him to elevate the downed firefighter’s SCBA above the steps, thus providing the necessary unrestricted foot space for the rescuer to climb the stairs. This is an advantage over using the victim’s SCBA harness to lift the downed member. A second rescuer at the bottom of the stairs would carry the firefighter’s feet on his shoulders (photos 3, 4). Two firefighters would be ideal at the upper stairs position to provide more lift and an overall faster recovery. The key is to elevate the SCBA above the steps. Racine Fire Department personnel have trained in developing techniques that use the new harness and have found that it is a reliable option when trying to rescue a downed firefighter. The harness is simple, effective, fast, and easily deployed. The rescuer has only to expose the strap and pull, or attach a retrieval line and remove a victim from harm’s way.

Reloading the Yoc Strap is easy: Simply reach up between the outer shell and the inside liner, pull down the shoulder straps evenly and center the Yoc Strap label in between the button holes at the back of the collar, close the flap, and you’re ready for rescuing.

The concept of installing a preloaded harness system into a turnout coat is not new, nor is it the only way of effecting a firefighter removal. But with today’s limited department budget dollars, the simplest, most effective, and least expensive method makes sense.

Thanks to Captain Mike Cooper, Lieutenant Scott Pierce, and Firefighter Alex Felde of the Racine (WI) Fire Department for their assistance in preparing this article.

SCOTT YOCCO is a 19-year veteran of the fire service and a firefighter/EMT with the Racine (WI) Fire Department, where he has also served as a haz-mat technician.

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