Monday, June 06, 2005

Article: World's Greatest Firefighters

Yet another reason this proud Washingtonian is proud that I was born in NYC:

City Firefighters Build Their Own Escape System

Less than five months after a Bronx fire forced two firefighters to jump to their deaths, the New York Fire Department is preparing to give each firefighter a costly rope escape system that was largely designed by a team of city firefighters using their off-duty skills in rock climbing and metalworking.

Department officials say the escape systems, which they hope firefighters will be using by September, will make New York the nation's only large city to provide all firefighters with a rope and anchor to use if they must jump out a window to avoid advancing flames.

The escape system is a revolutionary change from the simple one New York has used in the past, a bulky but weaker rope that was phased out after 1996 in a decision that unions said was made to save money and officials said was made to reduce the bulk firefighters carry.

The new system, which will cost $11 million to purchase and deploy, features a reinforced metal hook that can be quickly affixed to a pipe, piece of furniture or even a wall using a steel tip narrower than a sharpened pencil. The 50-foot ropes are made of bulletproof Kevlar, and the lowering device involves leverage tricks used in rappelling.

Officials say the systems would help firefighters reach the street from the fifth floor, or, in taller buildings, allow them to escape by climbing into a lower floor.

Members of the design team were dissatisfied with the escape systems available on the market, so they immersed themselves in the mission of finding a better one. They became fluent in the terminology of biomechanics. They tested the equipment by dunking it in buckets of water to simulate getting drenched with a hose line, and they coated it with plaster to mimic the damage done to buildings at fires. And some paid their own way to a fire industry convention to query vendors.

I also love rock climbing, so this is doubly cool. Hat tip to Majikthise, who picked this up in the NY Times. Full article in the comments.
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