A couple weeks ago I talked about calling a mayday, and how to use it should you find yourself trapped, stuck, or lost. This week I wanted to go along the same lines and talk about something that I have been properly trained to use and keep in my turnouts at all times: a bail out bag.
It is what it says it is, a bag with equipment that I can rescue myself should I become seperated and cut off by fire, and the only way out is through a window or down something that would otherwise call for me to descend a floor or two. I'm going to go through it step by step, and show several videos I found on the subject on YouTube for comparison.
This is a general video about personal escape rope I found, just a general overview of what it is.
There are many types of bags out there, in an effort to provide a level of safety without breaking the bank, I opted for a simple kit that includes 50 ft of 8 mm rope, a section of webbing to guard the rope at chaffing points, a bag to keep the rope in, and two carabiners, one that will come back onto the rope to form a loop and another at the end to keep you from falling or letting you attach it to an anchor point.
The next steps are important, but I must tell you that BEFORE you purchase one of these systems to use, you should find some training on it first and become familiar with the action so you don't fall. However, if you do buy one without training and end up using it and survive then it was a worthwhile investment.
The first step is to admit to yourself that you are trapped/cut off/seperated. The first step to solving any crisis is admitting that you are in trouble.
The next step is to find a window. If you took shelter in a room but the fire is advancing in on you, you will need to do this quickly. Break the window and removed the frame, you will need all the space. If you are fortunate enough to have found a window with a ladder close by or posted at the window by a good truck company then you can use the ladder bail techniques that are taught in any self rescue course.
Now that you have found a window, and have no ladder, you should begin getting ready to bail out. 50 ft of rope is probably enough to get you down 2 or 3 floors. If you are above that you should communicate with the IC via radio and a mayday call that you need a truck to get a ladder up to you. The preparation includes that mayday call and announcing your intention to attempt self rescue.
Using the bag is where the training comes in handy. You will need a hand tool or something sturdy like some piping or if you have the time you can punch out a section of the wall under the window and use the structure itself as an anchor point. Be creative. If you are using a hand tool, create a triangle using the bottom and side of the window frame making the tool the long side of that triangle. Tie the end of the rope into a bowline knot (don't forget your safety knot) and slip over one end of the tool and into the middle of the tool, pulling it tight. I tie the knot in advance to save time.
Now, pull enough line out of the bag and wrap it around yourself. The EVAC system has a section of webbing you can loop between your air pack shoulder straps and create a harness and it uses a figure 8 descender. This simplifies the process, but I learned it the hard way. This being you have to take the rope around you and the pack and grasp where the rope meets itself, creating a bight. You want the rope to be centered about mid-bottle on your pack, this will allow the rope a surface to glide against giving you control and a smooth decent that won't give your gear rope burn.
Get ready to lean out of the window, straddling the window frame. You want to keep tension on the tool, maintaining that triangle with the rope. Stay low to the bottom of the frame and grasp the rope with both hands, one pointing up and one pointing down, so that your thumbs meet. Do not clasp your hands together.
Now you simply roll out of the window, keeping your grip on the rope tight until you are straight up and down.
Now you can loosen your grip on the rope to start your descent. Do it slowly, trying to to get hung up. If you do get snagged, you should be able to giggle a little bit and get the snag free. If not, hang there until someone can get a ladder under you. It is far better to be hanging by a rope than burning up in the fire, and someone should notice a firefighter dangling outside of the building.
This is meant to be done quickly in an emergency, and I found a video of recruits doing this drill, just be aware that in real life, you won't have a belay line.