Bailout basics: Why you need a bailout system and tips for training with it

As more mid-rises go up, firefighters increasingly need a way to safely exit a window or balcony


Early in my career, I learned not to rely on another company to get me and my crew out of a bad situation, and later into my career, I learned that even when there’s a rapid-intervention team (RIT) on scene, I still need to know how to save myself.

If you’re not convinced, I recommend searching YouTube for “Black Sunday 2005 FDNY” and “North Loop Fire 2007” in Houston. If those videos can’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

To those guys out there saying, “Just put the fire out and things get better,” you are not entirely wrong; you are only wrong in the assumption that the hoseline will make the seat of the fire every time or even at the right time.

So many firefighters seem to forget that many functions on the fireground are performed without a hoseline: primary search, secondary search, search for extension, ventilation, forcible entry taking place in multiple locations or several floors above, forward recon and more – all typically accomplished without dragging a handline along with them. And all functions that really rely heavily on the attack team to accomplish their assignment – one that, if not accomplished in an expedient manner, could put other crews in a sketchy position.

My position, as it has been for a long time now, is train your crew to perform under the worst of conditions, and be prepared for those instances when the attack crew cannot accomplish their assignment. That way, when the time comes, you are trained, prepared and equipped to bailout of a two-, three-, four- or five-story building in an efficient and expedient manner.

Changing skylines necessitate enhanced equipment

I recall while serving as a pipeman that I thought I needed some kind of personal escape system simply based on my area’s potential alone. Bailout systems were just coming onto the market and were expensive. There were a few mid-rises and high-rises in Midtown that could’ve warranted the purchase of a bailout system, but it was mostly one- and two-story structures, and I felt a simple piece of webbing would suffice.

Systems can be placed in your cargo pockets, in a bag that you can attach to your SCBA belt or a special purchased back that is mounted to the lower half of the SCBA. 
Systems can be placed in your cargo pockets, in a bag that you can attach to your SCBA belt or a special purchased back that is mounted to the lower half of the SCBA.  (Photo/Chris DelBello)

This is not the case today. The Midtown area is undergoing a transformation. Most single-family occupancies are being built at least three stories tall. Also now dotting the skyline are many multi-family mid-rises built atop three-story parking garages that span six city blocks.

I saw this transformation and made the decision to purchase the bailout systems for my crew.

Bailout systems have been around for over 20 years now, but very few departments equip their members with the necessary equipment and training needed to perform a safe bailout when interior conditions deteriorate.

Some bailout systems are very basic, some are considered hands-free for the bailout only, and then there are the entirely hands-free systems, which include the act of lowering. I am not suggesting one system over another, although I do recommend a hands-free bailout system, meaning you don’t have to manually belay yourself as you bailout the window or balcony. More importantly, I encourage you to push your department to invest in your safety with any type of bailout system.

Prior to actually bailing out of a window for training, a member should train with and manipulate the system in a setting that allows them to place their full body weight on the system while keeping their feet flat on the ground. This allows them to learn the finer skills of manipulating the device that lowers them. Open or close too much, and the system could allow for a free fall. On the other side, pull or push to much and the system would act as a break. It depends on the system you are using. Practice in a safe environment and put in many reps as you can.
Prior to actually bailing out of a window for training, a member should train with and manipulate the system in a setting that allows them to place their full body weight on the system while keeping their feet flat on the ground. This allows them to learn the finer skills of manipulating the device that lowers them. Open or close too much, and the system could allow for a free fall. On the other side, pull or push to much and the system would act as a break. It depends on the system you are using. Practice in a safe environment and put in many reps as you can. (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Bailout training

Training for a bailout requires video, lecture, set-up and safety precautions for the training event itself. Most bailout kits will include a link to a video that covers training on the system.

I also advise having a member or two participate in a train-the-trainer class offered by some bailout systems, so they can then train the other members of the department.

While you are physically learning to operate a bailout system, a full-body harness should be used as a safety precaution for the safety/belay line.

Begin your training with proper manipulation of the new bailout system – how to anchor, estimate and operate the hands-free braking system. A safe way to learn proper manipulation of the braking system is to have a member put their entire body weight on the system but have their feet remain on the ground.

When bailing out fully geared, it will become important to maintain a low profile. Stay low when exiting the window. This will allow for a smoother transition and if heat conditions are an issue, the members will benefit from staying low. Secure your anchor with one hand. Place the head and a shoulder into a lower corner of the window frame as far and tight as possible. Use the free hand to slide and control your exit out of the window.
When bailing out fully geared, it will become important to maintain a low profile. Stay low when exiting the window. This will allow for a smoother transition and if heat conditions are an issue, the members will benefit from staying low. Secure your anchor with one hand. Place the head and a shoulder into a lower corner of the window frame as far and tight as possible. Use the free hand to slide and control your exit out of the window. (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Once members get a good feel for manipulating the braking device, then move on to properly exiting the window. You will find that it is more difficult than one would think. It will require multiple training opportunities to perfect the maneuvers.

Here’s a tip: When exiting the window, place your favored shoulder into a lower corner of the window frame with the head on the outside of the window and use your strong arm to guide you down the exterior wall while maintaining your anchor point and your weaker arm to control your exit and then simply slide down the exterior wall.

When the system is weighted by a person’s body weight, the harness and braking device become the pivot point and the person then pivots hips and legs out the window. The trick to properly exiting the window is to maintain your anchor and avoid having your boots hang up on the window frame. This will be eliminated with repetition.

As you further exit the window, maintain tension on your anchor so that it does not slip out. Using your free hand, body weight and legs to control decent while you are still exiting the window, slowly slide further down the exterior wall util your full body weight been taken by you belt or harness and transfer to the anchor. You are then ready to pivot out of the window. It is critical to bend the knees to clear the window, as it can become a point of contention when the boots get hung in the window frame.
As you further exit the window, maintain tension on your anchor so that it does not slip out. Using your free hand, body weight and legs to control decent while you are still exiting the window, slowly slide further down the exterior wall util your full body weight been taken by you belt or harness and transfer to the anchor. You are then ready to pivot out of the window. It is critical to bend the knees to clear the window, as it can become a point of contention when the boots get hung in the window frame. (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Training on exiting the window should start on a lower floor or a prop specifically designed for bailout training. I recommend starting easy and working your way up to the more difficult steps as confidence and control increases. The first set of reps should be in bunker pants, helmet and gloves only. Second set of reps in full bunker gear with the third set of reps in full gear and SCBA.

Training exercises should continue until the member is comfortable, confident and efficient in the entire bailout procedure. Training should also be ongoing in a quarterly manner, as this is a skill that can be lost or diminished quickly.

Once you have pivoted in a controlled manner, you can either use your feet to push yourself off the building or you can “hug the wall” to lower yourself.
Once you have pivoted in a controlled manner, you can either use your feet to push yourself off the building or you can “hug the wall” to lower yourself. (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Summary

Knowing how to bail yourself out of a bad situation is critical. Situational awareness will be key in these moments. Plan ahead, equip yourself, equip your crew, and train, train, train to be efficient and confident with this option of escape. Train on it like any other equipment you carry and until you are comfortable and it becomes second nature.

Bottom line: Get a bailout system. Push your department to provide them! Train, train, train until everyone is proficient!

Stay safe.

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