The Believers

New York City Fire Dept.: Escape Artists

MISSION // STOP, DROP, AND RAPPEL

"THIS IS THE WORST DAY OF YOUR LIFE," says New York City firefighter Bill Duffy, 40, describing the jump-or-die scenario that inspired a revolutionary new escape device that's set to become standard issue for Gotham's hook-and-ladder heroes. "It's get out the window as fast as you can." Last January, Duffy was part of a team of FDNYers-cum-designers who set out to make a lightweight system to enable an emergency exit from almost any window. Borrowing a few rock-climbing tricks, the Batbelt-like units, which pack into a bag on a firefighter's hip, feature a nylon harness, 50 feet of flame-resistant rope, a descender, and a single sharpened hook based on a prototype forged in the FDNY shop. Surrounded by flames, a fireman can slip the hook around a pipe, or jam its point into any solid surface, then roll headfirst out a window. The descender, a modified version of the Petzl Grigri, catches when weight hits the rope, allowing a controlled descent. The city is spending $11 million for 11,500 kits and training, which began in October, but, says Duffy, "hopefully, they won't ever get used."

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