rope access

While there is great debate about whether the mirrored Two Tensioned Rope System (TTRS) using CMC Rescue Multi-Purpose Devices (MPDs) should or shouldn’t be the way to go, one argument seems to be more popular than others regarding it: If one of the lines should fail and the person operating the second MPD fails to let go, the load will have a catastrophic fall. This is a simplified statement that I feel sums up the majority of what the argument seem to be about.


Mirrored system run off the head of an Appalachian Doortex:


What I find most interesting with this argument is that we now want to account for a SECOND point of failure i our system. What if: one rope is cut, one anchor blows out, etc… AND what if the belayer doesn’t let go, doesn’t realize the first line is compromised, etc…

No other system rope rescue system is viewed in this perspective despite the fact that any belay system can be overridden by an inattentive belay operator. So if we want to assume a second point of failure, do we need a third rope? Of course not; we need a fourth in case the third one goes. I’m kidding, of course.

The arguments seem to hinge on whether or not failure one causes failure two and if the nebulous “human factors” can be accounted for. It’s an acceptable thought, but again, we don’t apply this anywhere else in our rigging process. Otherwise we would have tertiary anchors and ropes for every main anchor and change of direction. While human factors that can affect performance and safety are certainly worth looking at, I find it difficult to see how they can be applied equally to ALL systems.

What I think this segues into is a topic of the BCCTR BCDT (or more correctly ASTM F2436-05) criteria and whether or not it needs to be changed. The MPD meets the BCDT criteria. So does a T3WP and a 540. Both of these can be overridden when in use, but meet the BCDT criteria. How do we apply an equal rule about not letting go (human factor) of a device during a belay event? I don’t think there is one. By simply doing what ever you can to make a device fail while operating it during a belay test will only lead to a witch hunt against whatever device you don’t like.


The pessimist in me wants to do a presentation at ITRS entitled “They all Suck. A look at modern belay Devices” Now of course I don’t believe that, but I think this is the area that you will get to if you try and account for human factors in a test. As a fireman, I’ve seen lots of ways people have gotten themselves in trouble and I am positive that the rope world is not ready to account for human ignorance as part of a test method. I think the line has to be drawn somewhere. To quote the great author Douglas Adams: “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” A better idea, and one already in NFPA 1006 (make of that what you will), is to have people pass a competency test to operate a belay system.

But do we really need another test? We’ve got the BCDT to determine if the device is capable. We’ve got the “whistle test” to test our rigging if everybody were to let go. These two tests can be equally applied to a traditional main and belay system as well as a TTRS. Is there a way to devise a test that can be equally applied to every system? If there isn’t, then maybe now is the time to figure it out. If not then I think the arguments, while not pointless, will probably not be solved. I can stand on one side of the argument and talk until I am blue in the face that the the TTRS with MPDs meets all of our current criteria and somebody else can stand on the other side and talk about what will happen when somebody doesn’t let go of the handle.

Here is a suggestion for one (expensive) way to solve this problem:


2016-02-06 08.37.22

While the Petzl ASAP and L57 Absorbica are rated for two person loads for what Petzl calls “Accompanied Descent”, it is not shown in the instruction manual that you can attach it to the anchor to be used in the way shown in the picture above. I am extrapolating that it can be used that way. I have not tested this method yet, so I am only guessing as to its effectiveness. It is merely a possible solution to a problem that people have with an MPD based TTRS.

We get all off the benefits the TTRS has to offer as well as being protected from a runaway belay in the event of an inattentive operator.


Is an MPD based TTRS the be all, end all of rope rescue? Maybe, maybe not. But I do think it solves more problems than it causes. It also allows people who are required to perform rope rescue but don’t like it a safe way to operate, while at the same time allowing some unique options for the geek that a traditional slack belay system doesn’t allow.

You may have heard of it as many different names, but if you want to learn practical, well researched information on suspension trauma than you have before, take an hour and watch the video below. In it, Dr. Roger Mortimer, gives his take on what is actually happening to people who are hanging in a harness and why he thinks they sometimes die because of it. I had the pleasure of seeing Dr Mortimer present this at the International Technical Rescue Symposium. He’s a great great presenter without any qualification. As a doctor explaining medical stuff to a lay crowd, he’s surely the best in the business. He’s also a cave rescue guy and has spent his share of time in a harness.

Someone who was left hanging:


high five fail

The readers digest version of the big points:

– Death from hanging in a harness is caused by lack of victim movement, not the amount of time they are hanging.     Have the victim move their legs if they are able.

– Tell the hospital the victim has rhabdomyolysis and to prepare to treat them for that. It will save a lot of time and confusion on both sides.

– It’s okay to lay the victim down after they have been removed from rope.

Here is a link to the paper published in the Wilderness Medical Society Journal:





No matter how cool your wife is with rope stuff and your mastery of fear while working at height,  I’m sure you will find that it is always cooler to you than it is to her. While you may be dying to impress her with your ability to tie an Alpine Butterfly with one hand or some other type of awesomeness, I think you’ll find it leads to more trouble than it is worth.

Take for instance the fellow who wanted to be flown in by crane to impress the girl he was proposing to. It does not end well. Take note of a few things here: The first is that we have one crane supporting the boom of another in order to lift a one person load ! I’m not a crane guy, but I can’t imagine that this is advocated for in any safe rigging manual. The other issue is the sling itself. A simple choker wasn’t cutting it. That thing needed to be wrapped a few times in order to keep it from slipping up the boom. Just keep that in the back of your mind next time you sling an anchor that has the potential for a lateral load. It’s hard to tell, but it also looks like it might have been short jacked in the back.



Below are some examples of woman humoring their mans desire to strut his peacock feathers on rope

One of them looks like they are having fun:

wedding rope swing


Below is another example of 50% of the participants thinking “This is the coolest thing ever!” Although there actually is  a pretty cool backstory to it HERE

wedding rappel 2


Cool only because they managed to get an artificial high directional in the mix:

wedding rappel 3


I wonder if the chicks in the pictures are bride-zillas about the rigging. You know like compromising rigging angles in order to get the best pictures, “does this harness make me look fat” etc…  Just thinking out loud.  Stay Safe!





Technora highline…   Check

proximity suit…   Check

SCBA and gas meter…  Check

Lashed timber high directional…   Check

Large Testicles…   Check


From the recent National Geographic show “Die Trying” on the Flying Over Fire episode .


Check out this article from Las Vegas. It’s about the new 550′ Ferris wheel that can hold over 1100 people and the article highlights some of the planning that went in to possible rescue situations.

Kudos to the Las Vegas FD tech rescue team for being proactive in the situation. It looks like, should something ever happen, that it will be a complex mix of lead climbing, aid climbing, and some team based lowering. The fact that the fire dept. was consulted at all during construction is pretty neat too. Anchors were placed inside each pod so that a system could be hooked up and 3 victims at a time can be lowered.

Neat stuff!

ferris wheel

Thanks to my sister, Caity, for pointing this one out to us. It’s not rescue stuff, but be sure to check out her awesome website Lots of great sculptures there!

We have just added an Open Enrollment Class for our Modern Technologies in Rope Rescue workshop on May 17 and 18 in Lancaster, PA.This class covers a lot of ground in two days. We will discuss and use the AZTEK in many of its essential uses. We’ll also be using the Two Tension Rope System concept with the CMC MPD. Additionally, we’ll be using the Arizona Vortex in some of its traditional configurations as well as the Rescue 2 Training original: the “Appalachian Doortex” configuration for urban anchoring and elevator rescue.

Come out and try the newest equipment and techniques in rope rescue. Cost of the class is $295.

Email Kelly M Byrne at or call 240-462-6610 for more information.

open enrollment lancaster may 2014.001ufo 2ufo 1
mpd 1

What, climbing up the outside of the Shard in London is not what you were thinking?

Six activists from Greenpeace were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic and decided to let the world know about it by shouting it from the roof top. The roof they chose, however, was the top of the Shard in London which is 1017′ high. It took them 15 hours to make the climb up the outside of the building. From looking at all of the pictures, it sure looks like they were well prepared to make the ascent without trouble.

shard protest

As a rescue consideration, it sounds like there were several points along the route where a rescuer could have accessed a climber without having to start at ground level. Letting them get to the top to make their point and then arresting when they came in was probably the easiest way to deal with the situation without any snafus and without placing anybody in additional danger. Should it have been necessary though, this kind of climbing and exposure is certainly outside of the normal scope of the urban rescuer. All the more reason to train and be equipped for just such a rescue.

Here is some video from the climb:

Climbing that is a little less well planned is the focus of the story Height of Stupidity which highlights the exploits of British youth who free climb cranes and other high structures. Ah, the invincibility of youth ! Sooner or later the inevitable will happen and somebody’s grip won’t be as strong as it was yesterday or they had a moment of clarity and decided they were scared and are hanging on for dear life. Whatever the case may be, somebody is going to have to go and get them.  Just as with the Shard climbers it is going to take some lead climb skill and in this case, will also require a harness be put on somebody who doesn’t already have one. Hopefully your team is prepared for that. If you don’t have a manufactured victim harness, make sure the team knows how to fashion a webbing seat around somebody who isn’t willing or able to lift their legs up to slide into a harness.


Stay Safe!

Enrollment is now open for our Modern Technologies in Rope Rescue. The class will be held August 24 and 25 at the Lancaster County Public Service Training Center in Lancaster County, PA at a cost of $295 per student.

This class covers multiple versions of the bowline along with some pretty god reasons to consider them, several uses of the AZTEK kit, a thorough introduction to the Two Tension Rope System concept with the MPD, and the use of the Arizona Vortex Artificial High Directional in some pretty typical urban setup configurations as well as some Rescue 2 Training exclusive uses of it in a few of the Appalachian Doortex configurations. As you can see in the pictures below from our last class, we did a good bit of work with the Rock Exotica UFO. One particularly challenging and fun scenario was to change the direction of our main and belay lines 180 degrees on an anchor that was free floating in the middle of the stair landing. There was also some excellent use of the UFO to simplify the rigging of a Two Rope Offset.

In addition to the Arizona Vortex, Appalachian Doortex, MPD’s, UFO’s, and AZTEK’s, we’ll also have available for use in this class three new products (some not even on the market yet) from Rock Exotica:

The little brother of the UFO; the rockStar.

The Enforcer load cell; which features swivels at both ends, a digital readout, and Bluetooth transmitting capabilities!

The AZORP (Arizona Omni Rigging Pod); an add on used to increase the already amazing flexibility of the Arizona Vortex.

open enrollment August 2013

Here are some pictures from our last MTRR class; we did some heavy duty 3D rigging along with some urban AZV usage:

IMG_1408 IMG_1412 IMG_1420 IMG_1429 IMG_1432 IMG_1434 IMG_1393

This class is different each time we run it and we’ve developed new techniques each class with input and ideas from the students. If you’re interested in seeing and helping develop what’s on the cutting edge of rope rescue equipment and techniques, contact Kelly to reserve a spot in this popular class. Call 240-462-6610 or send an email to

I don’t mean drilling as in training ( I’m sure that’ll be another post), but drilling as in: taking out a drill and putting a hole in a wall to make an anchor point. It’s just not something that I’ve heard talked about in the fire service rope rescue community as a viable option for anchoring. I’m not sure why though.

We’re pretty comfortable putting holes in roofs, breaking windows, forcing doors, etc… We might even be comfortable drilling holes for anchors in a building collapse situation in order to lift a slab of concrete. Bet when it comes to rope rescue; No Way! Maybe that will change in the future.

Looking at bolting initially, I was surprised by how relatively simple and quick it is to do. There is no voodoo knowledge or ninja rope skills required. The key points are to drill to the correct depth, far enough away from an edge, and to get the dust out of the hole before inserting the bolt. All of that information is available from the bolt manufacturer. In the video below, I’m using a 1/2″ diameter 3 1/2″ length Hilti KB3 rated at over 6000 pounds of pullout force. The Fixe hanger is rated to over 6000 lbs as well. Those aren’t bad numbers. Drop in a couple of more for your system and you have a pretty bomber system with very little effort. Before,  a blank concrete slab was a thing to for the urban rescuer to fear. Now, it could be looked at as something to seek out!

Keep an eye out when you walk through buildings on routine calls. Look around for the concrete columns and beams to see where you could drill. I did this and was amazed at where I now feel comfortable knowing I can set up a system.

As seen in the video below, it takes roughly two minutes to drill and clean the hole, set the bolt and hanger, and finally torque it to spec. There are some tricks to keep you from cranking on the nut too much if you don’t have a torque wrench, like using a stubby box wrench. You just can’t get the kind of leverage needed to overtighten unless you are REALLY cranking on it.

So get out there and start drilling!

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