Fire recruits present restored lifesaving net to chief
Thirteen Eugene Springfield Fire recruits at the department's training academy spent the past six weeks refurbishing the Browder life safety net
By Chelsea Deffenbecher
EUGENE, Ore. — It's a familiar scene in old cartoons and movies.
A high-rise building is on fire. Firefighters scurry from fire engines to the sidewalk carrying a large canvas-covered net with a bull's-eye-like red spot in the center. Holding the stretched out net, the firefighters instruct people in the building to jump.
Now, after being stored away for years, one of those nets in Eugene has been restored.
Thirteen Eugene Springfield Fire recruits at the department's training academy at West Second Avenue and Chambers Street spent their free time during the past six weeks refurbishing an old net — called a Browder life safety net — that once was considered a lifesaving device.
"I was looking (in storage) for something to show the recruits, and I found the dusty, dirty old piece of equipment," Capt. Wayne Morris said. "I opened it up and saw what it was. Those nets were used back in the 1800s, under windows so firefighters could catch whoever was inside. I thought that's pretty cool, so I brought it to the recruits and I gave them the assignment of restoring it."
The recruits contacted an out-of-state historical society, which gave the recruits special instructions on how to restore the net, taking extra care not to damage the white canvas during cleaning with harsh chemicals, such as bleach.
The recruits repeatedly soaked the canvas in a plastic children's pool with mild soap and water. They also worked to oil the leather, polish the brass, and clean the metal and plastic parts of the net.
The recruits presented the restored net to Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Joe Zaludek during their graduation ceremony Friday afternoon.
"It's a very rare piece of equipment, and it's iconic. You see it in a lot of cartoons and movies," Morris said. "But they went out of service when the modern truck came into service in the 1950s. They were kept on the trucks until the 1980s, and then eventually taken off and placed into storage, where this one has been since then."
Morris doesn't know the last time the safety net was used in Eugene or Springfield. And he doesn't know if it ever was used to help save anyone locally. But an April 13, 1958, article in The Register-Guard suggested that people were advised to jump only as a last resort.
"Don't jump unless you're burning to death," the article states. "This is advice from firemen who have taken practice jumps into 'life nets.'"
The article continues, "'To call them life nets is misleading,' according to one Eugene Fire Department official, who suggests jumping from a burning building only as a last resort."
Accompanying the article is a photo of firefighters making practice jumps.
The net in the photo is probably the same net that was restored by the recruits.
It will go on display at fire department headquarters on West Second Avenue, Morris said.
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