Chelsea firefighters completed training last week on a new piece of self-rescue equipment. The F4 Personal Escape System is made by Sterling Rope Inc. in Maine and is designed to be used by firefighters as the very last method of getting out of a building if they become trapped on an upper floor.
There have been countless documented incidents where firefighters have been trapped, and have been forced to “bail out” of an upper floor window in order to survive. “We are always searching for new equipment to keep our firefighters safe,” stated Deputy Chief John Quatieri. “The Black Sunday fire in New York City was the incident that prompted us to equip our entire department with personal escape ropes.”
On Jan.25th, 2005 six firefighters of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) were forced to jump from the 4th floor of a burning apartment building to the concrete below. Illegally constructed drywall partitions, built by the landlord and two tenants, were to blame for trapping the firefighters. Two of the firefighters died on impact, one landed on his feet and broke every bone in his body from the waist down. He died years later. Only one of the six was ever able to return to work.
“We have had our share of close calls in Chelsea” stated Quatieri.
In 1997, fire tore through the Standard Box Company on Gerrish Ave. Firefighters arrived on scene and found a fire that quickly overtaxed the sprinkler system and was spreading rapidly. The crew of Engine 2 used a portable ground ladder to rescue an employee who was trapped on floor 2. The crew from Engine 3 made their way to the second floor via the interior stairway. Fire conditions deteriorated rapidly, trapping the 2 firefighters. Other fire crews attempted to get to Engine 3 but were unsuccessful. Engine 3’s crew crawled along the second floor until they found an open freight elevator shaft. Both firefighters were forced to jump down the shaft, falling two stories into the basement. Both firefighters sustained serious injuries with one breaking his back.
A few years later a firefighter was forced to jump from a second floor window at 61 Shurtleff St.
On arrival, the crews encountered heavy fire in the rear of the building. A child’s birthday party was taking place on the first floor. Firefighters searching the building were trapped as the fire quickly spread to the upper floors. A firefighter from Engine 2 jumped from a second floor window and sustained minor injuries.
“We originally issued every member of the department a 50 foot length of rope to carry in their turn-out gear pockets,” said Capt. Ed McGarry. “This way they would, at the very least, be able to lower themselves from a window rather than have to jump.”
In 2009, the department was awarded a grant for $50,000 that made it possible to purchase the new NFPA approved F4 Personal Escape Systems. The system consists of 50 feet of rope, an escape belt, which is worn at all times by the firefighters, a steel hook and a mechanical descent device.
“The certified escape systems are always ready to be deployed should a firefighter become trapped on an upper floor,” said McGarry. “This ensures that a firefighter can perform a rapid escape by establishing an anchor point and then rolling out of the window. The anchor hook can be tied off or hooked around an object or placed at the windowsill to create an anchor. The combination of a pre-rigging system and the anchor hook are critical factors in reducing the time firefighters spend in untenable conditions.”
The department would like to thank Civitas Therapeutics on Everett Avenue for providing space in their building for training. A section of the building was ideal for simulating an escape from a third floor window.