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What’s Your “Angle”?

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

There are so many angles to talk about in rope rescue but for now, let’s focus on Low Angle vs. Steep Angle vs. High Angle rescue.

protractorWe hear these terms utilized often in the rescue community, but it is not always clear what each term defines. Each one comes with a degree of slope range, something like;

  • 0-15 degree slope is flat terrain
  • 15-29 degrees is considered low angle
  • 30-50 degrees is steep angle
  • anything above 50 degrees is high angle

You may have heard some different numbers associated with each and that’s ok because, in reality, they are just guidelines to help us make informed decisions about what kind of systems to use in a given scenario. If I’m being honest, I don’t really care what the angle is because I still haven’t carried around a protractor in my rescue kit to tell me what degree slope I am working on. I have my own internal protractor, my eyes, my experience, and my level of training. All I am really concerned about is the steeper the ground, the more difficult and the more technical the rescue becomes.

search team imageIt is not just the degree of slope that tells me what I need to do, it is also the terrain and the condition of the terrain that makes a BIG difference. The terrain AND the slope are going to be major factors in deciding what rope systems to use as well as how many personnel are involved in the rescue. Some examples of terrain that may push you to utilize ropes in a rescue situation would include loose rock/scree, mud, snow, or any other debris that could cause bad footing and an unstable rescue for the patient. Ropes may have to be used to gain access to the victim, to support the team members and the patients during the rescue and remove them from the rescue site.

It is not just the degree of slope that tells me what I need to do,
it is also the terrain and the condition of the terrain that makes
a BIG difference.

So, our size-up goes something like this.

  • Can rescuers move freely across the terrain without assistance and manage patient movement effectively and safely? Yes = no ropes
  • Do rescuers need assistance to safely and/or more efficiently move themselves or the patient, but the ground is predominately supporting the load? Yes = 1 rope system
  • Are rescuers and the patient fully supported by the system or a single rope failure would cause catastrophic results? Yes = 2 ropes.

Each one of these scenarios presents its own set of challenges and the systems used can vary greatly. The goal for all of us is to provide for the safety of our teams and the people we are there to help.


Additional Resources


Q&A: Replacing Your Rescue Harness

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

How often should I replace my rescue harness?



We get many calls asking about the “life expectancy” of harnesses, rope, and other nylon products. Of course, many factors are involved, but a lot depends on how much you use your harness and how you use it.

First of all, NFPA 1858 10.1.2 states that “Software products shall be retired in accordance with 10.2.1 no more than 10 years from the date of manufacture.” Be sure to check the label of your harness, which should tell you when it was manufactured. If it’s beyond this 10-year service life, we recommend that it be taken out of service.

The frequency of use can have significant impact to the service life of a harness.

ASTM F1740-96 (2018) Guide for Inspection of Nylon/Kernmantle Rope also recommends a 10-year service life for rope, which can be applied to a nylon harness as well. Section 5.5.2 states, “Retire any rope which is greater than ten years old, regardless of history and usage.

newharness4revHere are a few examples based on industry use. The fall protection industry generally recommends 2 to 3 years as a service life for a harness or belt in regular use. The Climbing Sports Group of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America states that a climbing harness should last about 2 years under normal weekend use. The military uses 7 years as a service life for nylon products. Of course, hard use of any product would call for a shorter service life than would normally be expected. Also, the frequency of use can have significant impact to the service life of a harness. It is not only the continual wear and tear a harness receives during use, but the exposure to other factors that exacerbate the degradation of textile fibers such as UV, sweat, or potentially other airborne chemicals. Frequent and rigorous use of a harness could decrease the service life substantially.

Even how and where you store your gear is an important factor. In an industrial environment, for example, atmospheric exposures may be a key consideration for nylon products even while in storage. Storage conditions, heat, light, temperature, and other variables can all impact nylon. NFPA 1858 Section 9.2 references the storage of life safety rope and other nylon products, “Equipment shall be stored in such a manner as to prevent damage contact with other equipment and to prevent exposure to chemicals and atmospheres that can contribute to rust, corrosion, or oxidation.”

How and where you store your gear is also an important factor.

As with all of your rescue gear, it’s very important to account for each use and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for care, use and inspection. As with ropes, if your harness has been subjected to shock loads, fall loads, abuse other than normal use, or fails the inspection for any reason, it should be removed from service and destroyed.

Bottom line…Never take chances when there’s any doubt about the serviceability of a life safety product. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Additional Resources

Confined Space Rescue: Non-Entry or Entry Rescue?

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

It’s December 21st on a Saturday night, and the plant is running on a skeleton crew. Operations wants to get a head start on annual preventive maintenance and decides to knock out several permit required confined space entries before the majority of the work is to be done after the New Year.

night plantRandy has just finished the third of five vessels that are identical in configuration. He and his authorized attendant and good friend, Hector, have been working together for over 15 years and they both know the drill. They have changed out the stainless-steel bolt sets on the agitator blades of these vessels every year at about this same time. The entry supervisor has just closed out the permit for the third vessel. After reviewing the permit for the fourth vessel and helping with the pre-entry atmospheric monitoring, he signs the permit authorizing entry.

Hector checks Randy’s harness and the attachment of the non-entry rescue retrieval cable to his dorsal D-ring, and double checks the davit arm and the mounting point of the self-retracting lifeline with the built-in retrieval winch. As Randy climbs 25 feet down the rope ladder to access the bottom of the vessel, all is going according to plan. As he steps off the ladder and begins to loosen the first bolt set, he slips on the concave floor of the stainless-steel vessel. Before he can react, he strikes his head on the agitator blade which causes a 5-inch gash to his left temple and knocks him unconscious. He falls between two of the agitator blades and then slides to the bottom of the vessel with his retrieval line wrapped over one of the blades and under another. Hector tries to winch his friend out of the space only to find that Randy’s limp body gets wedged under the agitator blade. You can probably guess what happened next.

Keep additional personnel (even rescuers) out of the space
unless absolutely necessary.

Realizing there is no entry rescue capability on this shift, Hector’s gut reaction is to enter the space to help his friend. In his rush, he slips from the rope ladder and falls 20 feet to his death. When the entry supervisor arrives 30 minutes later to close the permit and initiate the last entry, he sees two bodies at the bottom of the space.

Understand OSHA Rescue Requirements  

confined space entry permit

Are there permit required confined spaces at your worksite? Are employees allowed to enter these spaces? If you answered yes to these two questions, it is critically important to understand the OSHA requirements for rescue. As part of a written permit space program, the employer must “Develop and implement procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services, for rescuing entrants from permit spaces, for providing necessary emergency services to rescued employees, and for preventing unauthorized personnel from attempting a rescue.”

When considering what methods should be used for rescuing authorized entrants, the safety of the rescuer(s) should be considered as important as the effectiveness of the rescue technique. If it is possible to perform non-entry rescue of the entrant(s), that should always be the first choice. It’s always a given – keep additional personnel (even rescuers) out of the space unless absolutely necessary. It is important to consider potential scenarios that could arise when determining if non-entry (or retrieval) rescue is sufficient.

Non-Entry Rescue

What are the requirements for non-entry rescue? OSHA states, “To facilitate non-entry rescue, retrieval systems or methods shall be used whenever an authorized entrant enters a permit space, unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry or would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.”

An assessment should carefully consider both capabilities and limitations of the retrieval system for any planned or unplanned condition that may arise during entry.

Let’s examine this further. What conditions would preclude the use of non-entry retrieval systems? Here are some guidelines that OSHA will use to make this determination:

  • A permit space with obstructions or turns that prevent pull on the retrieval line from being transmitted to the entrant does not require the use of a retrieval system.
  • A permit space from which an employee being rescued with the retrieval system would be injured because of forceful contact with projections in the space does not require the use of a retrieval system.
  • A permit space that was entered by an entrant using an air supplied respirator does not require the use of a retrieval system if the retrieval line could not be controlled so as to prevent entanglement hazards with the air line.

Assess The Space

confined space permit only

The ONLY way to determine if a non-entry retrieval system will provide adequate safety for entrants and satisfy OSHA’s requirement is to perform an honest and thorough assessment. This assessment should provide careful consideration for the capabilities and limitations of the retrieval system for any planned or unplanned condition that may arise during entry. We have all heard of “Murphy’s Law” and most of us have experienced the effects of that particular law. I encourage you to remember that Murphy is always lurking close by.

So, when evaluating these spaces to determine if non-entry or entry rescue is the appropriate choice, always ask yourself “what if?” For the fictitious accident that opened this article, the plan was to do all the work on the near side of the agitator blade directly below the top portal. In that case, it would have been safe to assume non-entry retrieval was the only plan needed for rescue. Enter Murphy… Was the rescue plan developed with the assumption that the planned work activities would always ensure the successful use of the retrieval system, but failed to consider the “what ifs”? Some might say that we can “what if” things to death. Let’s turn that around; we SHOULD “what if” these questions in an effort to PREVENT death.

If there is any reasonable potential for an unplanned change
in the conditions, then an entry rescue capability
must be in place as a backup.

When evaluating permit spaces to determine the appropriate rescue capability, please explore those “what ifs.” This is not to say that in the case cited above that the only option would have been entry rescue. That may not be necessary and if the non-entry retrieval system would have worked, then there is no need to expose rescuers to the hazards of entering the permit space. But there was a potential for the condition to change, and it sure did. So, recognizing that potential, an entry rescue capability should have been planned in the event that the change in conditions rendered the non-entry rescue system ineffective.

Backup Plan

The point of this article is to consider non-entry rescue as the default for assisted permit space rescue unless the conditions cited by OSHA are present. At that point, entry rescue must be planned. But this isn’t necessarily a one or the other choice. As we can see from this story, it is sometimes best to plan for non-entry rescue as the primary technique, but if there is any reasonable potential for an unplanned change in conditions, then an entry rescue capability must be in place as a backup.

This article was originally featured on the cover of the March 2014 issue of ISHN, and authored by retired Roco Chief Instructor Pat Furr.

Additional ResourcesConfined Space Rescue Chart


Rescue Challenge 2022

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Roco Instructor Team22

Rescue Challenge 2022 finally returned after a two-year hiatus due to pandemic restrictions. The Roco Rescue Challenge has been an ongoing event since 1989. From inception, Rescue Challenge was meant to be far more than just a rescue “competition” that is all about trophies and bragging rights. It’s more about learning and sharing ideas. Rescue Challenge respects the risks—and yes, challenges—that are posed by the confined space environment. This year’s event had a great mix of industrial and municipal teams; and for many of the teams, it was their first Rescue Challenge.

This year teams were tasked with six confined space and high angle rescue scenarios found in industrial and urban settings. Teams also faced off head-to-head in the Team Performance Evaluation (TPE). Finally, team members showed off their skills in the Individual Performance Evaluation (IPE). All Challenge scenarios are designed to have teaching goals that require different rescue and rigging skills. They included simulated IDLH rescue entries with the use of SAR and SCBA equipment. Also included were single-person and multi-casualty scenarios with a mix of manikins and live victims as patients.

Congratulations to this year’s teams for rising to meet the many unique scenarios that the event presented. The experience gained from Rescue Challenge, together with continued training and practice, will make for safer facilities (and communities) these teams serve, in turn providing safer places for everyone who works there.


Challenge 2022 Participants:

Baton Rouge Fire Department Team 1 – Baton Rouge, LA

Baton Rouge Fire Department Team 2 – Baton Rouge, LA

Bossier City Fire Department – Bossier City, LA
BossierFD Team22final

CF Industries – Donaldsonville, LA
CFI Team22final

CHS McPherson Refinery McPherson, KS
CHS Team22final

Exxon BRPO – Baton Rouge, LA

BRPO Team22final

Some of the exceptional performances this year included:
CF Industries: “Top Team” Overall Highest Average for All Scenarios.
Baton Rouge Fire Department Team 1: 1st Place Individual Performance Evaluation Station.
Bossier City Fire Department: 1st Place Team Performance Evaluation Station.

To see more highlights from this years event click here.

If you missed this year’s Rescue Challenge, join us next year on October 18-19, 2023, at the Roco Training Center in Baton Rouge. Every year our instructors devise new surprise obstacles to challenge teams with hurdles they’ve never tackled before.

Is your team “Rescue Challenge ready?”





Q&A: Tactical Product Review

Saturday, October 15, 2022

tactical q&aQUESTION: 

Are there any industrial applications for Roco's Tactical Mini-Tripod?


Yes! We’ve been using the Mini-Tripod for many years in our tactical training, and it’s been in the Pararescue inventory since 2009 thanks to the Guardian Angel Technical Recovery Program. Every PJ team in the world has these tripods, and we were wondering whether there were any useful applications in industry. In response to this question, we commonly hear, “Why would I use that tiny tripod that requires special techniques to get a litter patient out of a hole if I can just bring the full-size version?” Valid point…until you work in a tray column.


Roco Rescue’s Devin Payne evaluates the Skedco/Roco Mini-Tripod inside a tray column. This training prop has engineered anchors and a top portal, but many tray columns have neither.

Configurations vary, and some of these spaces do have interior high points or topside openings. However, many do not. Maneuvering a patient up through the trays and out a side portal, can be a significant challenge without a high-point anchor. In fact, we practiced this exact scenario last month during a 4-day in-house workshop. We had nine of our experienced personnel from our Training, CSRT, and Tactical divisions perform multiple iterations of the scenario, with and without high points. Afterwards, we introduced the Mini-Tripod to the equipment cache – and, boy, was it a hit!

The Mini-Tripod is small enough to fit inside the tray column on the top tray. No other rescue tripod on the market has this capability. Our CSRT Director immediately reserved the tactical program’s tripod and assigned it to a tray column job starting the following week! The Mini-Tripod weighs 35 pounds and the height is 54”. (This is the measurement to the bottom of the head when fully extended where you clip a carabiner, not the top.) These handy little tools will soon become standard on these jobs.


tact tripod-Ish2 DSC_1330Additional Resources


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