During a recent demonstration, the temperature is easily 30 degrees at the Fair Lawn Fire Department training center off Saddle River Road. The center is a three-story structure similar to an average home. A generator shines a spotlight on the side of the building.
Volunteer firefighter Rick Healey, from Fire Co. #4, is dressed in full gear as he pokes his head out the window of the third story. He swings his right leg out first and grips the window. He is being held up by two ropes.
The first rope runs from him, up through a pulley and down to a second firefighter who is firmly standing on the ground. The second firefighter has a rope tied to a harness and he is anchored to a fire truck.
Healey then repels himself down the side of the building like a mountain climber.
When he lands his breathing is heavy and he works to catch his breath. He then reaches for a second rope, yellow, which has been attached to a special harness that is connected to his waist.
“This is interesting,” he said. The first time he did it he was nervous, but now he admits that it has gotten easier.
The 50-foot long rope actually goes in a bag that will fit into the pants leg in a firefighter’s uniform.
Healey is one of 12 Fair Lawn firemen who have been practicing lately with “bail-out bags.” During the month of February, they have been learning how to use the system so they can train other members of department how to use them.
Should a fireman be stuck on a second floor without means of exit, he can break a window and hook one end to a safety harness he is wearing.
“The other end is latched to say something like a radiator or a couch and this allows them to escape out a window and out of harm’s way,” said Assistant Fire Chief Eric Reamy.
The bail-out bags were developed when after three firefighters were killed on Jan. 23, 2005. According to published reports, two “jumped to their deaths to avoid a raging blaze in a tenement” on E. 178th Street in the Morris Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y. The day would be known as “Black Sunday.”
The bags were developed by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) to save the lives of firefighters, said Kenneth Kiel, chief of the Haworth Fire Department. Kiel also works with AAA Emergency Supply Co., based in White Plains, N.Y., that sold the bail-out bags Fair Lawn Fire Department and provides the instructors.
“We have sold and trained fire companies in Mahwah, Closter, Passaic, Belleville and Haworth, just to name a few towns,” said Kiel.
Kiel said the goal of these bail-out bags was not to replace standard firefighting procedures or safety and precaution, but to be used as a last line of defense to prevent another Black Sunday.
“We require hours of classwork and we also require 10 jumps and a recertification every six months,” said Kiel.
John Tobin, an instructor with AAA Emergency Supply and New York City firefighter who had known the firefighters killed in 2005, said he is glad to teach the course.
“If this saves just one life, it will be worth it,” he said.
According to Reamy, the Fair Lawn Fire Department became involved with the bail-out bags after they were purchased with the help of an $87,638 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Fair Lawn had to provide $9,000.
“The paper work to get this was tremendous,” said Reamy. He credited the help of Wendy Demeraski, the administrative assistant for the Fair Lawn Fire Department.
Reamy said the Fair Lawn Fire Department also has FEMA to thank for the funds.
“We would not have been able to purchase them without the funds,” he said. “Now that we have them, this is really satisfying. What we are all about is making sure the volunteer firemen are able to go home. This bail out bag assures that.”
As Healey holds up the rope and wraps it, the next firefighter readies for his turn. Before Healey heads up the stairs and waits for his next turn, he smiles.
“This is great system,” he said. “This will be great for the Fair Lawn Fire Department.”