Instructor Teaches Self-Rescue Techniques for a Firefighter Window Hang and Ladder Bails

In this training video, Jason Abitz recalls an incident when six FDNY firefighters lost their lives while trying to execute a window hang, falling 50 feet onto concrete. Abitz goes on to teach various firefighter self-rescue techniques, including proper firefighter window hang techniques and safe firefighter window bailout skills


Today, we are learning about firefighter window hanging and firefighter ladder bailout techniques. If we look back to January 23, 2005, six FDNY firefighters had to make a decision to either stay in a burning building or jump 50 feet onto concrete. No one can ever quarterback that. If I was hanging out that window, is there any other way that I could delay that time just a little bit more until another brother or sister can toss me a ladder?

The answer is yes. We have the ability to do an efficient and effective window hang. Three of those guys had a share one window. Because of that, six firefighters fell and three died.

We have the ability to hone our skills and be able to efficiently do a window hang. Beyond that, we need to know how to get a ladder to those people. Today, we are going to work on how to transition down and how to do effective ladder bails.

We’re going to escalate this. You may be very efficient and effective at your window hangs. You may have never done it before. We’re going give you those techniques and then we’re going to ramp it up a little bit. By the end of the day, you’re going to be doing is exiting this building as quickly as you possibly can, on belay.

You’re going to be waiting for one of the brothers in this group to run a ladder around site Charlie and get you off. If any of you have rigging, you may want to try that out later on.

With that being said, let’s go ahead and talk a little bit about what we’re focusing on with the window hang. With a window hang, you don’t want to be hanging by your fingertips. You’ll be exhausted because you have already been through hell. You want to use your larger muscles. Use your arms and your legs to connect into the window.

We can use the larger muscle groups to go ahead, use the crevices and our arm and our leg to actually connect into that window. And we can go ahead and provide a longer hang. We are going to give you a vinyl sash today. Another mistake we often see is people directly attacking the window. Anybody can break glass. However, in these newer homes, they have windowsills that are made of vinyl. That vinyl requires more technique to break. A direct attack will not always work. You need to have purposeful and smart movements.

You’re going to be taking these sashes. You should have an over-the-top movement when you bring it down, that way you know the glass will be coming with it. The other thing that you will have to tackle is right there. And so today I want you to be purposeful. I want you to take that sash and clear that window to get out.

You need to clear that window out where you’re going to be going. Once we cleared that window, we’re ready to get out. You need to keep in mind the flow path through the window as well. That window will have 50% intake and 50% exhaust. You need to be on the 50% intake side and stay low on the window through the entire exit process. That gives you clean air that is being sucked into the fire.

He is going to shoot the window. Shooting means that he is going to slide his belly across the windowsill.

This sounds silly, but you need to picture Shamoo from SeaWorld. He would get his belly on the beach and flip his tail around. That is what you need to do when negotiating this window. Most people are going to want to stand on the windowsill to get their feet over. When you do that, you are taking in all that thermal intake for however long it takes you to get over that window.

This window is actually a pretty high one. Whenever you stand up on the window you are burning yourself. Instead, change that procedure to shoot whichever side your dominant side to get your waistline onto that windowsill. That is important because if everything goes wrong in that room, the best part of you is now out of the area of fire.

Look at how Chris is hanging out of this window. His entire upper body is hanging off the right side of this window. Notice how he is shoulder-checking the upright section of the window. He is using his arm to lock himself into that position.

That’s the first large muscle you’re using to sustain that hold. At this point, all he’s going to do with that air pack on is let that higher center of gravity automatically allow him to roll out. All you need to do is make sure it doesn’t make you roll out too fast or too far.

Now he’s going to take that first leg and he’s going to kick himself in the ass. When he kicks himself in the ass, he immediately takes it over that top upright. Now he needs that second large muscle group to connect. That muscle group is in the crevice of your leg. Now he’s got his hamstrings, he’s got his biceps, and he has not taken as much thermal insult.

It’s a simple shootout and you’re in the position. Another thing to think about purposeful movements, is where the radio is at. You need to give yourself the ability to get to it.

He’s got a free hand now. He has access to that radio and has the ability to signal for help at that point. When another firefighter comes up, they can go ahead and scoop him with that ladder. We will get to transitioning onto the ladder in a moment. Despite all this talking right here, he can sustain this hang for quite a while.

This is a pretty narrow window for the most part. We’ll talk about how we can negotiate a bigger window. It doesn’t matter how big you are or how tall you are. You can negotiate any window because you have to.

We don’t have any choice; we can’t pick or choose what types of windows we want to negotiate. We need to work with what we have. If I’m given a window like that, awesome. If I’m given a window like this, I can still take care of it. Remember, don’t stand up in the window. I want you to shoot, belly up like Shamoo. Shoot the gap, kick yourself in the ass, roll around and go ahead and hook in. All right. What I do want you guys to do is six of you go ahead and grab a radio. The reason we’re doing this is because everything that we do, we want to do purposefully.

Chris has got a radio strap. If you have one, let’s take a minute or two to go grab it. If you don’t, no big deal, we’ll have you wear the one that we have. We’re just going to get this technique down through repetition. We’re going to keep this sash out for the moment. All we want to do is work on technique.

If you have another way of doing this, feel free to show us on this platform. We also want you to try and practice our method. Remember to shoot low and take this upright with your shoulder. What I focus on when I come up, is trying to punch out. When I punch out with my arm, it naturally rolls my shoulder down, which helps me transition out the window.

Go ahead and try it for yourself. I want you to stay below this line and punch out. Kick yourself in the ass and lock-in. Stay right there for a moment. Now we have a good transition. You stayed pretty low and only spent a second to 10 seconds in that environment. That is not a ton of thermal insult. But if you’re in one of those positions where you’re negotiating, that’s a problem.

Check that you can gain access to your radio. You’re calling a Mayday out here. If you can get yourself in a position where you can sustain a hang, there is no reason to be calling for help inside of the building.

If you chose to hang with your fingertips, it is going to be impossible for you to reach your radio. If you can’t reach your radio, there is no way for help to come and get you. That is why I’m having you hang like this.

You’re keeping everything locked in. He can sustain this for quite a while. Another thing you can do is hit your past alarm. You can bang on the side of the house. Take one of the chocks out of your pocket and throw it at someone who doesn’t see you. During any of these processes, you’re sustaining that hold.

Now I want everyone to throw a pack on. One more tip is to close the door to the room. That may help us buy a little bit more time. Unfortunately for the FDNY firefighters, they tried to shut that door as an illegal tenement. They also had transom windows over top of those doors. Those transom windows gave way and obviously allowed for that flow path, but you can’t depend on that.

I want you to start where Chris is at and quickly shut that door. I’ll tap on you when I want you to transition further out. You need to clearly call for what’s needed. They’re going to grab that ladder, run it over to you to do the proper scoop and you need to transition out. I want the next person ready to go.

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