Pat Furr: Welcome to the second installment of Roco Chats With The Experts. I’m Pat Furr from Roco Rescue and this month we are pleased to welcome Michel Goulet and John Dorough of Petzl America. We are going to do a deep dive on some of Petzl’s most popular items, which is great because readers will get insights straight from the experts on the Petzl I’D and the JAG Syst
em, the Rescucender cam, the ASAP and ASAP Lock, the latest in helmets and more.
Michel and John, if you are ready, I would like to start out by asking you to introduce yurselves and tell us what got you started with Petzl and working with equipment to support folks in the vertical realm…
Michel Goulet: Well, I have always been active in the outdoors and in 1980 I started an outdoor rock-climbing school in Ottawa. I ran that for about 6-7 years and I quickly realized that most of our students were coming for professional reasons instead of for recreation. That gave me the idea to switch the focus from outdoor recreation to working with professionals at height, which made the wife happy as we didn’t have to work as many weekends. I met some of the Petzl folks, after I made a presentation at the North American Technical Rescue Symposium here in Kelowna, BC in 1996. A job opened up and I was hired in 2003.
John Dorough: My association with Petzl nearly mirrors Michel’s. I was in college getting my degree in Natural Resource Management, but on my off time I drank the juice of all things rock-climbing. My goal was to get out to Yosemite Valley and somehow write it off as school work. I was able to convince a couple of professors and my parents and ended up going out there to complete some practicals toward my degree. I got into big wall climbing where I met the Yosemite Search and Rescue team. I needed to do an internship for my degree and ended up finding one with Petzl, which was great because they paid me in climbing gear. Fast forward to now, I am one of the principle Petzl representatives along with my brother for the Mid-Atlantic, South East and South Central regions of North America on the professional side.
PF: Michel, you mentioned at your outdoor rock-climbing school that a lot of your students were there for their work instead of recreation. Was that a precursor to your involvement in rope access?
MG: That was the mid to late 90’s, pretty much when SPRAT got going. I think IRATA was about 10 years old but didn’t have much presence in Canada. This was a time when a lot of steel workers, bridge inspectors, and riggers were starting to use rock-climbing techniques as a way to safely access work at height.
PF: Rope access is such a safe and efficient option it seems it’s mostly just a matter of introducing industries and employers to it. I know Petzl and Petzl equipment is integral to rope access continuing to move forward. How do you come up with the ideas for new equipment?
MG: In the early days we got into the habit of deciding what the customers wanted and needed. Frankly, that has changed dramatically in the last ten years or so. We have opinion and thought leaders representing the 7 or 8 industries that we work with most. Some of the best ideas come from the practitioners who are always looking to find a more efficient and safer way to work at height. Once we decide to move forward on a product, we try to be as innovative as possible. For most products, we field test it for 2-3 years by turning it over to select practitioners to evaluate. They are experts at their jobs, while we are product experts, so it is a great partnership.
JD: Petzl is really good with innovation, but equally as good about product evolution. For instance, the I’D is on its 3rdgeneration, and the ASAP has also evolved to its current 2ndgeneration. We have the ability to talk with the practitioners in the various industries and from different regions. The tower workers in Texas may have different needs and use different techniques than those in Europe. In this way we are able to identify gaps as well as common needs, region to region. We really listen to all the markets and the practitioners’ needs.
PF: Is it challenging to design products that not only meet the needs of the users, but also conform to the various legislated or consensus standards requirements?
MG: That is a gigantic challenge for any global manufacturing company with a market that includes over 60 different countries. Our rope access harness has 5 different certifications. It would be great if there were an ISO standard for our types of products so we could meet just the one standard.
PF: I have my favorite pieces of kit, and you are probably not surprised to hear that the Petzl I’D is absolutely one of my favorites. It is so much more than a mere Industrial Descender (I’D). How and when did you realize that it has so many capabilities beyond its name?
(photo courtesy of Petzl)
MG: I made a presentation at a symposium when the I’D first came out in the mid-90s. I saw how it could be used as a progress capture device and back pulley on a haul system. Arborists are using it as a releasable anchor for emergency lowers. We are launching an updated version of the I’D this April. And we are adding the I’D Evac to the line. The updated I’D will automatically lock when you release the handle, so it is no longer a point of failure on rope access evaluations if you do not manually lock the device. It also has some added features that prevent the rope from twisting on long descents and has more durable steel materials on the rolled edge and the capstan. On the I’D Large, we reintroduced the safety clicker (quick release side plate) - since NFPA changed the strength requirements for descent devices.
PF: I must say I was disappointed when the I’D Large came out without the quick release side plate. So I am very glad to see its return.
JD: Hey, don’t blame us though, that was driven by an outside organization.
PF: Oh I know, it was that dang NFPA 1983 tech committee. Note: that was tongue in cheek as the author is a member of the NFPA 1006 tech committee.
MG:Unfortunately we had to work with a finite minimum breaking strength and couldn’t include the fact that the I’D as well as most of our products are designed to slip under a load of about 4-5 kn, and the chances of bringing the I’D to failure are reduced tremendously provided there is not a stopper knot tied behind the device. The new I’D has a means of attaching an auxiliary piece to it’s moving side plate that becomes a redirect which adds friction and control of heavier loads.
PF:That redirect will also make it easier for technicians to operate the device on a lower when the I’D is mounted at shoulder height or higher as they will no longer have to hold the standing section of rope high over the device while operating it.
MG:Precisely, and that’s why we have added the I’D Evac to our JAG rescue kit. The I’D Evac operating lever opens the device to allow travel 90 degrees out from the regular I’D. This is a much more intuitive and comfortable position for high mounted friction control devices
JD:Pat, to your earlier point that the I’D may be thought of as only a descender. But what I would say is it can perform the four major food groups of rescue and rope access. Those being; ascent, descent, haul, and lower. When the I’D first came out and for a year or so after, we would go out to visit the users and they were only using it for personal descent, but now when we visit, they are using it for all four of those types uses.
PF:Michel mentioned it being used as a releasable anchor. We have many clients who work as a two-person team using basic rope access techniques. We teach them to use the I’D as a dynamic anchor on both the main and safety line. This way it can be used as an immediate emergency lower, or it can be quickly built into a Z-rig for a 3:1 or 5:1 emergency haul on either of the ropes.
MG:It is a great device to use as an anchor for high lines as you are essentially introducing a slip gear to the system, so you are less likely to overload your anchors. But ropes from various manufacturers will slip and perform slightly differently so it is important to practice & test and see what the difference is in performance.
PF:The I’D only gets better when the user learns some of the subtleties regarding its use. For instance, when you need to remove slack through the device, I have seen users fumble trying to push and pull rope through and it generally gets hung up on the anti-error catch. Once they learn to keep a bit of tension on the working section of rope and pull harder away from the anchor on the standing section all of a sudden, things are much easier. Or if you need to feed rope to the working section, just turning the device 90 degrees to the anchor will allow rope to feed through easily. It is great to see users who have been practicing with the I’D performing these skills as if it were second nature.
MG:Just a word of caution if you are turning the I’D 90 degrees to the travel of the rope, you are defeating the camming effect, and if you have a load or are using it to belay, you must have a very light grip on the device so it will pull itself inline and stop the load should the need be.
PF:One issue our end users are constantly fighting is having enough time to practice their skills and maintaining proficiency. When it comes to mechanical advantage systems, sometimes they get a little befuddled building an MA up from scratch. Or if they rely on pre-built MAs, if they are not careful how they stow or pull the pre-built MA out of the bag, the bottom set of pulleys may flip through and between the lines and create a tangled mess. But Petzl has the JAG systemwhich is a pre-built 4:1 or 5:1 MA that has a mesh sock around it which prevents the system from becoming entangled. Have you considered building the JAG into longer lengths to add additional throw to the system? Or even with larger diameter pulley sheaves?
JD:When we consider innovative products, we try not to limit it to the high-end proficient user that is looking for the little bit of advantage in efficiency or safety. Often times there are opportunities to make products that are most helpful to the less proficient user, and the JAG is one product that certainly helps the user that struggles to build MAs or struggles to keep their MAs from tangling. We see that situation all the time where a rescue team will pull their pre-built MA out and it is so tangled that they end up taking it apart and rebuilding it from scratch. So the innovation of placing the mesh sock over the system really helps the less proficient user especially when confronted with the stress of an actual rescue, knowing that when they pull the JAG out of its bag it will be straight and ready for use.
(photo courtesy of Petzl)
MG:I will add that the JAG is now sold in three different lengths: 1, 2, and 5 meter lengths. We are really starting to encourage the use of twin tensioned line rescue systems for hauls and lowers. And we like to use the 5 meter JAG piggybacked onto the haul lines. Depending on how you orient the system, you end up with an 8:1 or 10:1 MA with the travel distance of a 4:1 or 5:1 since both systems are in play.
PF:That is really an advantage if you are short of manpower and end up with an 8:1 MA that may be enough for only two haul team members, one on each system with the benefit of having a belay function with the two tensioned system.
JD:The JAG System sock, as we like to call it, may cause concern for users regarding inspecting the system, but it is very easy to remove so they can inspect, or if they need to replace it should it be damaged.
PF:One of my pet peeves is seeing folks walking about with a two-piece mechanical cam hanging from their harness and the shell is not pinned to the shoe. This usually results in the two pieces breaking apart from each other and the shell is dropped to who knows where. Your current generation of the Rescucendercam has fixed that issue.
(photo courtesy of Petzl)
MG:When we first started to design that we were looking for an alternative to the Shunt possibly recommending it as a back-up device. We even had a small hole drilled into the body for the attachment of a light cord to tow the device on descent. But while talking with the practitioners, we decided we were going about this in the wrong way. And about 8 years ago now, we decided the best backup device for self belay is the ASAP, so we shifted the intent for the new Rescucender for both a cam and a backup device to strictly a cam. For those of you not familiar with the new Rescucender, we replaced the wire that connects the shell and the cam with a steel flange. That wire would sometimes cause entanglement if the rope got wrapped into or behind it when assembling the cam. And if you needed to be fast with the device, lining up the holes with the safety pin could really be a bit of an aggravation. Now you can keep your pulley connected to the Rescucender and attach it to the rope which really speeds things up and reduces the potential for dropping the device. It has dual safety catches one on each side of the shell body. On fat, unloaded 12.8-13 mm rope, the device is a little tight when you are mounting it on the rope, but once it is mounted it works just fine.
JD:And as an instructor at the end of a long hot day, we have all been victims of demonstrating how to place the older two piece cams on a rope and with the sweat in our eyes fumbling with the pin trying to line things up, then dropping the cam, and having to start all over again, the new Rescucender makes it that much less likely we embarrass ourselves.
PF:Yup, been there done that…
JD:A byproduct of the new Rescucender is it makes all us instructor types look that much cooler. It is very intuitive to place and strike off the rope.
PF:We were talking about using the Shunt as a tended self belay, but now we have the ASAP and the ASAP Lock, which are both much better mousetraps than the Shunt for self belay. So not only do we have 100% arrest assurance with the ASAP versus having to remember to release the tow string on the Shunt, but the ASAPs are true automatic rolling belays that follow you up on ascent and lead you down on descent untended.
(photo courtesy of Petzl)
MG:That being said, I do want to say that no piece of equipment is foolproof, but the ASAPs are better devices for belay than the Shunt.
PF:Agreed Michel, and as we use the ASAPs both in training and operationally we realize there are certain considerations that require attention. You have a second generation ASAP called the ASAP Lock. Can you tell us how the device is different from the original?
MG:We have seen a huge growth in the wind industry and more bridge inspections are being performed using rope access techniques. These happen to be areas where there is a lot of wind, right? When you are working 150’ down from the hub, on the tip of a wind turbine blade, you have a lot of wind pushing against the rope between your anchor and the ASAP. Because the wheel of the original ASAP is freewheeling, it tends to let the wind push a loop of rope above the ASAP creating a significant fall potential, unless you remember to set the ASAP. On the ASAP Lock, once you engage the lock, the rope will not pull up through the device creating that big loop. But the device will still move up the rope if you were to reposition. I think what people really like about the Lock version is you can keep the device connected to your harness when you are bypassing a knot or a redirect anchor. The ASAP 1 and 2 have to be disconnected from your rope by unclipping them from your lanyard and we see a lot of folks adding a light keeper loop to the body of the device to hook a lanyard to so as not to drop it. There exists a chance to wrongly reconnect the body of the ASAP to the rope without connecting the ASAP to your full strength lanyard and that could lead to disastrous results in the event of a fall. The new ASAP Lock can stay attached to your harness via the shock absorber and has 2 independent spring loaded catches to allow easy mounting and dismounting to your rope.
JD:Also on the original ASAP, to load the device onto the rope, you had to manually open the wheel with your hand to allow the rope to fit, and that was sometimes cumbersome. With the ASAP Lock, there are two spring loaded catches reminiscent of what you have seen on handled ascenders. These will hold the wheel away from the body of the device as you load the rope and you only need to bump the catches slightly and they lock the wheel onto the rope. One thing to note is that the ASAP and ASAP Lock are now compliant with ANSI standards when used in a vertical lifeline configuration with our ANSI compliant rope, shock absorbers and connectors.
MG:During rescue operation, the belay device needs to essentially be defeated to allow the rope to move through the mechanism when the load is moving away from the anchor point. Several field tests have been conducted over the past few years showing that the belay person needs to be very attentive and act swiftly when there is a mainline failure, disconnect or over-speed and they need to respond accordingly, allowing the belay device to capture and hold the load. Successful rescue load catches are not always possible when you add in a human factor. With the ASAP you really take that guesswork away because the ASAP includes a brake that relies on centrifugal force, which is always present, and is a much surer way to eliminate a faulty belay activation method. Several fire departments have started using an anchored ASAP for their belay and have eliminated their miss-catches that they sometimes experienced in training and testing. Petzl now allows the use of the ASAP LOCK in this fashion as long as an ASAP’SORBER AXESS is used with two person rescue loads.
PF:I would like to think that most of us who build rescue systems or rope systems to support vertical work, need to use not only our physical attributes, but also our brainpower too. So it makes sense to protect our noggins. You have some interesting helmets that have some unique and specific features. Please tell us about some of your Petzl helmets.
JD:This is an exciting time because in 2019, we are launching our next generation Vertex helmet and introducing a new line called the Strato. We now have a flip and fit system for our suspension system which allows you to flip the entire suspension system up into your helmet where it is protected by the helmet shell. This prevents it from becoming maladjusted during transport or while jammed in your rescue bag. All our helmets for the professional market are type 1, top impact rated and meet ANSI standards as well. If you look in detail at the ANSI standards, you will see there are two types, one for work on the ground and one for work at height. So now we have a dual chinstrap that can convert to meet the ANSI standard for both work situations. We have been adding more and more accessories to our helmets through the years. We have had our VIZEN and VIZIR face shields. We’ve added a full face mesh. We have also added a means to protect these face shields by adding a garage for them where they just push the shield up into the garage when not in use. We have a disposable clear cover that fits onto the helmet shells to protect it from paint and any other staining products. We now have the EZ Clip for mounting accessories which eliminates the need to bolt on accessories using tools and time. Attaching and removing accessories now take seconds instead of minutes.
MG:We have also been able to reduce the price of the Vertex by about 20%. And the chinstraps are now interchangeable and come in two lengths. The face shield protector also allows the use of the headlamp to still fit into its slotted receiver.
PF:Michel and John, I wish we had more time to go on to talk some more but I am afraid we will have to wrap things up for now. I hope we can revisit and talk about more of your products and even some techniques that are now available because of your products. Thank you so much for your time and I am sure we will see each other around soon.