Firefighter escape device's Bailout Systems signs with TSS Technologies

Tiny invention takes a giant leap forward

West Chester Township-based Bailout Systems aims to solve a simple problem: How can firefighters make a quick exit from the upper stories of a burning building?

In April, the startup took a big step toward mass-producing its solution by allowing an investment by TSS Technologies, which does manufacturing for several local Fortune 50 companies.

“We really liked their story,” said TSS engineering director Kevin Easton. “From a product standpoint, we were intrigued that there wasn’t something better out there.”

In exchange for a piece of the company, TSS provides Bailout with office space in its West Chester plant, as well as other engineering and manufacturing resources it needs to refine and produce its solution, Bailout Systems co-founder Erik Zamudio said.

How does it work?

Most solutions involve having a firefighter use ropes and carabiners to rappel down the side of a building. But that’s cumbersome and time-consuming, so much so that many firefighters don’t even take the gear with them, Zamudio said.

The company’s Bailout EVO product is designed so that a firefighter straps it on just below his self-contained breathing apparatus. The product has a cord with an anchoring device at the end, which the firefighter just has to secure to something and then jump. It’s then designed to spool out cord and slowly lower him to the ground.

How did the company get started?

Co-founder Michael Ragsdale, 41, a Navy deep-sea diver and Norwood native, conceived the product after talking with firefighter friends about those who had died leaping from burning buildings. His biggest problem, he said, was devising a way to provide tension on a line that’s less than one-quarter of an inch in diameter. After about a year of testing, he came up with a patent-pending solution that holds 8,000 pounds.

He entered his idea in Bearcat Launchpad, a student-led business accelerator at the University of Cincinnati in March 2015, where he met fellow UC students Zamudio, a Loveland native, and Patrick Henke, a West Chester native. Bailout won the $3,000 first prize, plus $8,000 from the Bearcat Bridge Fund, and the three went into business together.

Since then, they’ve taken the company through the First Batch manufacturing accelerator in Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Innovate competition, in which they won $2,000. Ragsdale has also put about $20,000 of his own funds into the business.

What’s next?

Getting the product certified by the National Fire Protection Association is a must. “If we’re not NFPA-certified, we’re in trouble,” Zamudio said. He expects that TSS will be able to help with that process, which he hopes will be complete by the end of this year.

Before the company starts selling products, Zamudio said, management would like to sign up a large manufacturer of firefighting gear as a partner. “It would be good to have their stamp of approval,” he said.

The owners made connections with those manufacturers last month at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, a gathering of 30,000 firefighters. They were encouraged at the amount of buzz their product created there.

They also plan to explore using the Bailout EVO technology to solve other problems, such as how to get residents out of their homes quickly, rather than using the traditional rope ladder. “It’s hands-free … Even a little kid can use it,” Zamudio said.

They’ve also received interest from the military, from helicopter operators, and from ski patrols, he said.

What’s surprised them about owning a business?

Zamudio thought it would be much more difficult than it has been, and he’s been surprised at how willing people have been to help.

“The things you thought would be hard turn out to be easy, and the things you thought would be easy are sometimes the most challenging,” Ragsdale said.

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