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Firefighter bailouts: Are you training safely?

Remember to train and train often, as utilization of the escape system should be instinctive

As long as there is fire, firefighters will unfortunately need to consider alternate means of egress in the event of a catastrophic fire event. This fire event will put firefighters in a position in which they have no other option but to bail from a window to save their lives.

It is true that continual size-up and various other proactive fireground procedures will limit your chances for such a dramatic event.

But, as you can see in the following video on the FDNY Black Sunday fire that killed two firefighters and seriously injured four others, conditions often deteriorate rapidly in our job.

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Since the Black Sunday incident, many departments across the country have been equipping their members with personal rope for potential egress. They trained on ladder bailouts, personal rope bailouts, and bailouts with the assistance of a ladder truck.

Utilizing a ladder or a ladder truck is great in theory. We are hoping that the firefighter inside will actually have the time to wait for a ladder to be put in place, or the ladder just so happens to be at the window needed for egress.

When you listen to the tapes of the Black Sunday fire, you will quickly realize that in these types of fire events you do not have the time to get a ladder in position. Your response area may also have specific building types that do not allow for ladder or fire truck assisted bailouts.

FDNY developed system
In response to the tragic event of Black Sunday, a Personal Safety System was developed by the FDNY. That system or similar systems are only as good as the person using them. This article will focus on how online videos are revealing unsafe practices with escape systems.

When training with these systems, you must first meet the specific manufacturer’s requirements to receive the system. Many manufacturers will not release the system to a firefighter without proper training by a certified trainer.

The training typically entails a half-day classroom lecture followed by 8 hours of hands-on training in the field. The hands-on portion includes an entire day of system deployment.

Students learn and demonstrate three different types of deployment, anchoring, and descending techniques from a window. Upon successful completion of the class, the firefighter will then only be allowed to purchase the system.

Fast forward six months, and it is time to train again. What do we do now? Most companies that sell the systems offer additional training and refresher courses. Firefighters should not be training on the systems without a certified professional or another member that has been certified in specific “Train to Trainer” certification.

Once you have your refresher class set up with a certified trainer, we need to prepare our training area. If you do not have access to a training center, you should try to contact your salesperson. Most companies have training centers or portable rated training systems available to departments.

Prepared, rated and certified
Remember that not just any window or opening will do. We need a location that has been prepared, rated, and certified by an engineer to accept the potential shock loads of a firefighter in a bailout situation. We must also have the proper safety harness, belay system, and safety mat in position. All items must be rated accordingly for potential use and shock loads.

It is recommended to purchase rated systems as opposed to rated components. Many components are tested individually and not tested as an entire system. You must also certify that your bailout points, hooks, and substantial objects are rated and/or engineered as well.

You may want to consider that a pipe rail that can hold a 250-pound firefighter may not hold a 250-pound firefighter if it is nailed into plywood. This just reinforces how critical our connections, systems, and equipment are. Bailout training is no joke, and if not done properly can be fatal.

The next video shows firefighter training for a window bailout using what appears to be a personal rope without any safety measures in place.

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The next video highlights personal safety system training without the use of a safety belay, safety matting, or full protective equipment.

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The final video shows a refresher class for the FDNY at the New York City Fire Department Academy on Randall’s Island. You can see all the safety elements are highlighted in this video

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Remember to train and train often. Utilization of the escape system should be instinctive. Start simply and ratchet up the complexity until you are able to do it with your SCBA on and with limited or no visibility.

Check your personal equipment periodically for damage to components. If there is an issue with any component of your system, contact your officer and take out of service immediately. Do not always assume your training center is qualified.

The training center or training window should also be inspected periodically by a licensed engineer. Do not assume that any safety equipment or training equipment has been checked or inspected before your use. And always verify before training that the deployment systems, safety systems, and training center are in order.

With periodic safe training, you should be able to instinctively find points for anchoring and egress. Learn the techniques and what works best for different scenarios. Inspect and maintain your system as per the manufacturer’s specifications and remember these are “personal” systems. All these tools should help you in the event of a catastrophic fire event.

In a recent report into a firefighter fatality, NIOSH also suggests that fire departments ensure a qualified safety officer is present in practical skills training environments.

The key thing when it comes to bailouts is to try and prevent them having to happen in the first place. Remember, continual size-up and situational awareness is crucial.

Jason T. Poremba is the owner and creator of His ‘Close Calls on Camera’ section on FR1 won Best Regularly Featured Web column/Trade category in the 2009 Maggie Awards, which honors the region’s best publications and Web sites. Jason is a 14-year member and captain in an engine company of a volunteer fire department in New York. His specialty training includes rapid intervention, firefighter survival and engine company operations. He has developed a way to train firefighters via the Web in the dangers of firefighter close calls, and dangerous training and firefighting procedures.