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Local News

February 26, 2013

Firefighters hone skills on escape system

“On belay?” Oneonta Fire Department Capt. James Maloney called out.

“Belay on,’’ firefighter Jason Hassick replied.

Moments later, firefighter Brian Knapp rolled out of a second-story window and began lowering himself by rope, which is part of an updated emergency escape system. A 50-foot rope, with a 4-inch-wide hook at one end, is attached to a harness that is part of Knapp’s turnout gear.

Knapp hooked the rope to the window, or other secure component nearby, and lowered himself using the rope stored in his pants pocket. He slowly descended until his feet were on the ground.

In the practice situation Monday, Knapp simulated escaping from a burning building when stairs and ladders were inaccessible.

Oneonta firefighters are practicing the procedure as many as 20 times to ensure proficiency, and Knapp said using the “muscle memory’’ produced through training can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.

In the exercise space at the Oneonta Fire Department, Knapp also was attached to a safety rope. Maloney, Hassick and other firefighters spotted for Knapp as he descended from the practice structure that looked like the side of a house with two stories, each with a window.

Assistant Chief Shane Mattice said the emergency escape system is a “last resort’’ for crews inside a building who find stairs no longer accessible, and there isn’t time to wait for a ladder.

Oneonta firefighters have trained in using the rope-escape system before, Mattice said, but this round is with new or upgraded equipment purchased under a state law signed by the governor last year.

A harness, for example, is part of turnout gear instead of worn outside, Mattice said, and the harness can hold the weight of two people — the firefighter and a person being rescued. He estimated the setup cost about $500 per firefighter.

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