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First Due: Rope Rescue PPE

Last month, we discussed safety in rope rescue systems. This month, we're going to continue our discussion on safety in rope work with a (very) quick refresher on rope rescue PPE. Understanding and using proper PPE is critical when working at height.


As always, these articles are designed to provide an introduction to the material or a refresher of knowledge you already have and don't replace real-life training. 

Personal Protective Equipment: Fortifying for the Vertical Arena

Operating in high-angle environments exposes rescue personnel to a diverse array of potential hazards and forces. From falling debris to moving rope and deadly falls from height, the risks are substantial and unforgiving. Proper utilization of specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) is, therefore, essential to safeguard rescuers during technical rope operations.


Providing critical protection, the rescue helmet serves as the primary barrier against impact dangers. Designed and tested to absorb and deflect strikes from falling objects like rocks, gear, and hardware, helmets prevent severe and potentially life-threatening head trauma. Approved models should meet stringent ANSI Z89.1 and NFPA 1951 standards for impact resistance and incorporate secure triple-redundant suspension systems to prevent dislodging forces. Chin straps are essential but have to be worn to be effective.

Safeguarding Your Vision

Eye protection ranks as an equally vital measure by shielding the sentries that facilitate situational command and hazard perception. Loose particles, equipment fragments, and debris can rapidly inflict vision-degrading or -incapacitating injuries in the high-angle environment. ANSI-rated eye protection that includes adequate side shielding is critical to safeguarding this essential vulnerability.

Gloves: Preserving Control Interfaces

The dynamic rope work inherent to technical rescues presents an insidious threat to unprotected hands in the form of friction and abrasion hazards. Even just running a short section of line can rapidly abrade and blister exposed skin, quickly impairing dexterity. Well-fitted gloves with sufficient dexterity preserve positive control capability while defending against burns, pinches, cuts, and other injuries that could incapacitate a rescuer's hands.

The Core of Your PPE: Harnesses

Few PPE elements are as paramount as the harness system. An appropriate, properly fitted harness is ultimately what stands between you and a fatal fall. Specialized rescue harnesses are categorized into three distinct classes based on their engineered load ratings and design:


Class I harnesses like basic belts or light waist models offer a 1.33 kN rating, approved for single-person applications like emergency egress, non-rescue work positioning, and travel restriction to prevent falls.

Class II harnesses are the workhorse of the vertical world and secure around the waist and under the buttocks or upper thighs. Rated to 2.67 kN, they can accommodate dynamic loading and shifting when working in the vertical environment.  The leg loops provide added security, stability, and comfort when rappelling or hanging in the vertical. Class II harnesses can be used for travel restriction but generally shouldn’t be relied on for dynamic fall protection as inversion could occur in an uncontrolled fall. 


Class III harnesses are the heavy-duty systems wrapping the wearer's waist, legs and torso. Like the class II harness, they have a minimum 2.67 kN load rating, but offer supplemental attachments and reinforcements, and allow for safe inversion of the rescuer. Class III harnesses should be used whenever dynamic fall protection is needed.


Collectively, these three tiers provide adaptable protection matched to operation intensity and anticipated loading scenarios.

"You may hate gravity, but gravity doesn't care."

-Clayton M. Christensen

The Path to Full-Spectrum Safeguarding

Of course, possessing an arsenal of proper PPE resources represents just the starting point. What’s also required is religious adherence to comprehensive inspection, maintenance, and deployment protocols. Each piece from helmet and harness down to eye protection and gloves integrates into a cohesive safeguarding system, but only through consistent use.


Uncompromising vigilance to verifying equipment readiness across the full PPE matrix can assure rescuers their protective barriers are optimized to deflect, absorb and mitigate the multiple hazards present during vertical operations. This fortification then enables teams to fully focus their psychological disciplines on stabilizing dynamic scenarios while operating in one of the world's most unforgiving arenas with full confidence.

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