A simple high-angle rope lowering evolution was in progress from the top of a two story fire house during a training drill. A Captain with limited rope rescue experience had donned a seat harness over station wear. He was secured with both a main-line rope attached to the front D-ring, as well as a belay line connected to the rear D-ring of the seat harness. Although a safety officer was in attendance, nobody noticed that the harness had been donned over a (name withheld) voice pager as well as an (name withheld) Alpha pager, both on the station wear belt. All harness straps, carabineers, and knots had been double checked as proper. While in the process of lowering, the evolution was stopped approximately 12 feet from the ground, and tied off at the lowering device. The Captain was instructed by the training officer to let go of the knot he was holding, and to invert to a head-down position. As he did this, the waist straps of the seat-harness loosened and allowed the Captain to slide, head down, out of the harness. The fall was briefly stopped by the tight leg straps. In the inverted position, the harness had bunched up with the waist strap around the legs, holding him for a moment in order to return to a head-up configuration. At that point, the staff took measures to continue the safe lowering of both main line and belay ropes. The Captain, although in the seat harness, was in a position to fall out if he didn’t hold on to the rope. He was able to use upper arm strength to hold on to the main line rope as the staff quickly lowered the Captain to the ground without injury. This was a volunteer evening drill, which occurs weekly in our department. The lead instructor was a Lieutenant in the department, as well as a member of the Rope Rescue team. There were no specific command procedures. No communication, weather, or staffing problems existed.
The team has purchased commercial chest harnesses for the seat harnesses to equip the team with four class 3 harnesses for rope rescue. Although we have not made it SOG to always use a Class 3 harness, most team members agree that it is the smart and safe thing to do. Additional instruction for a safety officer from the Rope Rescue team to check the tightness of the harnesses and watch for obstructions was completed.
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