WHERE’S YOUR ROPE?

BY TOM BRENNAN

Years and years ago, I had a chance to work with the most knowledgeable (in my opinion) truck operation expert I had ever met. Captain Lee had transferred to an engine company, and I had the detail from my personnel-overloaded truck for the tour of duty. At his gathering for the evening drill, he lined us up and asked the question, “If you had to enter a structure in which there was a fire, what would be the tool you would carry if you had only one choice?”

As a guest in the engine company AND with a sense of humor, I said (at my turn), “Why, a five-inch charged hose!”

NOT! That officer didn’t even recognize I was around for six more months.

What did he want for an answer? “A piece of rope,” said he to the others, and then he went on to describe so many uses for the rope that I could not remember them all:

• To guide yourself into and out of areas that appear complicated in layout or when you think it is too “scary” for your level of experience. (You’d be amazed how much more courageous you will feel with that little thread of rope tied to the entrance to the fire compartment.)

• To tie smoldering bundles of all sorts for removal to an open location (either by carrying or by gravity).

• To lower or raise additional tools and nozzles with hose attached.

• To control forced doors.

• To mark dangerous conditions.

• And, one that everyone avoids-to lower yourself from a hazard opening to a nonhazardous one below.

Sure, the uniform shirt-and-tie people will tell you that it must be tested and conform to yada, yada, yada. But they usually don’t provide any answers; they certainly don’t purchase what you need; and, more often than not, they don’t go to fires. Believe me, it is better if gravity takes over on your escape closer to the ground than if you just drop from the building location that will burn you to death if you wait another minute.

In the years that followed (I had my first piece of rope from some marina, left on the docks by large boats going to winter storage), my fire department researched a personal rescue rope program and added a request to develop a rescue rope for company use for single sliding and lowering for rescue purposes.

Amazingly, they discovered that a “continuous filament” rope was never made because no machine would be stopped to tie on the next spool of thread that made the strand, etc.

With that problem solved by a small rope manufacturer, they went ahead with the program and supplied each member of five truck companies with the results-the most important of which was a 40-foot piece of rope for each firefighter and a harness that fit inside the turnout coat (mine was #8). Simple, and it worked!

That department recalled all those individual devices-harnesses and ropes-some time ago for reasons that are hazy or just unknown.

Now, why am I writing this? I’m sick of sitting here in retirement being asked to “take a look at” events of injuries and deaths of trapped firefighters who have no choice at the moment of entrapment except to jump from where they are to where they won’t burn to death. The conscious decision they make to risk serious injury or, worse, in jumping from their location is less than the risk they are facing at that moment-and they make the choice.

Now, we listen to still more terribly sad reports of more incidents that we cannot get to make a difference. We watch as committees try to reinvent the solution to firefighters’ injury and death rates from fireground trauma that really is so simple to solve: You just have to supply the tactics to the fire building workplace that have been taken away and some simple equipment like rope and harnesses. They have taken our personnel (and therefore our tactics) from the interior firefight system so that we can no longer account for the relative safety of the structure-at least for a time to account for life and a little property before it becomes simply a pile of rubbish that we wet down safely.

We have aerial devices that cost more than a million dollars that cannot even fit into some of our streets; we have pumpers that can supply more water than the system of hydrants it hooks to can give it. We have air systems that can supply so much air time that they make our job even more dangerous, because we remain in the hazard zone too long. We have cameras that can take a picture of the hazard before it befalls us.

Where are the solutions to our life safety in true emergency conditions? No RIT or ZIT or whatever team can march through fire to make a difference either quantitatively, qualitatively, or timely.

Pound wise and penny foolish! Where are the protection assurances and tools for those of us left active in our profession to try to make a difference to our Americans burning?

Where are the ropes?

Now, new committees will start up, and some “spokespeople” will try to find sophisticated answers to a still simple process. There are complicated issues that are out of control in this job for sure, but, in the meantime, get the harnesses and ropes and training for those of us who still perform.

TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He was the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999). He is a regular contributor to Firenuggets.com.

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