Tiny invention could save firefighters' lives

Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-26 06:50:14-05

The firefighting world has an unofficial motto: Everybody goes home. But on a freezing Sunday morning in New York City in 2005, it didn’t work out that way.

Amid a citywide blizzard, firefighters responded to a blaze in Queens in a four-story apartment building. But as some of them surveyed the top floor, they were suddenly surrounded by fire – and trapped. Illegal subdivisions of the apartments were blocking their way out. Six firefighters jumped from windows. Two died, and the others were severely injured.

That “Black Sunday” highlighted a major oversight by New York City’s fire department: It had stopped issuing bailout kits to firefighters five years prior. Personal escape ropes are an insurance policy for firefighters – most of the time you won’t need it, but if you do need it, you don’t want to be without it.

Still, the traditional rope bailout kits come with drawbacks: Fibers in the rope weaken with time, so you’ve got to replace them every few years, and carrying hundreds of feet of rope is cumbersome. Sometimes the kits get left in the truck. And what if you can’t find your hook? What if there’s no place to anchor it? What if you can’t see well enough to set it up in an already high-stress situation?

A trio of local men think they have the answers.

Their startup company has created a new personal escape kit that is generating a lot of buzz in the firefighting community. Bailout Systems is the brainchild of three men who met at the University of Cincinnati with a vision for a better solution to the firefighter escape problem.


Ever wondered what the view is like when jumping from Bailout? Well here's your answer...

Posted by Bailout Systems on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Industrial design student and Norwood native Michael Ragsdale, 41, is a Navy veteran who loves rock climbing. He started thinking about safety solutions after a bad fall.

“I fell 100 feet off a cliff and was in a coma for days and had to relearn how to walk,” he says.

But he also had to learn how to fall. Ragsdale kept climbing and learned everything he could about fall safety. A colleague of his became a firefighter after the Navy and told him about the need for better bailout gear. “The current market doesn’t do people justice,” Ragsdale says.

Marketing major Erik Zamudio and industrial design student Patrick Henke, both 24, were working on a music discovery tool in UC’s Bearcat Launchpad incubator when they met Ragsdale, who had been developing his bailout idea for about a year. They were energized by his vision: His goal was to create a bailout kit weighing under 5 pounds that could be set up in under 6 seconds while wearing thick gloves in the dark. It should also be able to be operated hands-free in case you’re sending down someone who is unconscious. And it should be able to bear 500 pounds for at least 100 feet.


As promised, here is one of our test jump videos. Uploading plenty more now!

Posted by Bailout Systems on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bailout Systems’ target market is municipal fire departments and volunteers, with an eye on the military and residential markets next. The three co-founders are still figuring out the pricing, but they want to keep it in line with other bailout products to get it in the hands of people who need it. Existing systems cost $400 to $700 and are replaced every three to five years, or once they’re used. Firefighters tend to buy the higher-end products from their own money – this isn’t a place to scrimp.

But how do you convince people to upgrade systems that work fine? You have to make a product that works better. Bailout Systems’ pocket-sized rescue device uses a braided plasma-infused nylon cord that’s crazy strong. (At a half-inch thickness, the cord can bear 32,000 pounds; the Navy uses it for towing ships.)

And the firefighting industry is ripe for innovation: American firefighters have used the same helmet for 100 years. “If you get in with those guys, they’re loyal to what works,” Ragsdale says.

Ragsdale tested the waters with his idea, setting huge goals and hoping that people who could help make them reality would show up. And they did.

Zamudio graduated from the School of Business in 2014; he was also the cofounder of a startup called Fooji that delivers whatever food emoji you Tweet at them for $15. Ragsdale and Henke are still finishing their degrees, but they’ll graduate with impressive resumes: Bailout Systems won $10,000 from the 2015 Cincinnati Innovates Competition and was a finalist for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Columbus on Jan. 18, hoping to advance to the U.S. finals in Miami in March.

The three co-founders are hoping to start manufacturing within the year. The goal is to produce the bailout kit locally, to bring business to the region and also to monitor the quality.

“It’s a little more expensive, but this product has to be done right,” Ragsdale says. “You get one shot.”