Rope Based Casualty Extraction — An Introduction

Agencies across the country are preparing for the next act of mass violence. Rescue Task Force (RTF), Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) and Tactical Fire Companies are quickly becoming common place. However, one area in the response to mass violence events that needs more training is technical casualty extraction. Technical casualty extraction entails the use of a low signature rope rescue kit to rapidly move casualties out of higher-threat areas.

Casualty extraction can be as simple as carrying or dragging a patient through a secured corridor to awaiting medical aid and transport. However, there may also be a need where a more technical extraction will be warranted. The primary example occurs when multiple victims are located on upper floors; however other examples are plenty. A new threat such as a suspicious package or a confirmed device may be found, a sleeper assailant may present him or herself, or fire may be used as a weapon against responders to limit access to previously used corridors. In these cases, a light-weight low-signature rope rescue system would be warranted to hastily extract victims.

Before I go into details of what a low-signature rope rescue kit is, let’s first discuss what they are not. A low-signature rope kit is not the typical rope rescue gear kept on most engines, ladders, or heavy rescues around your state. While this equipment serves its purpose in a department’s typical rope rescue response, this equipment will quickly become cumbersome in the mass violence incident. The equipment is simply too heavy and requires multiple personnel to carry. Remember you will also be carrying medical equipment (your primary mission) and forcible entry tools.

What makes up a low-signature rope rescue kit? At a minimum, a low-signature rope rescue kit should contain enough rope, software, and hardware to lower a casualty three stories, construct a usable anchor, build a descent control system, and convert that descent control system into a hauling system if necessary. The hardware should be the lighter-weight aluminum variety, the rope is generally nine to 10.5 mm, and Dyneema slings are generally used instead of one-inch webbing.

The first question we are often asked regarding a low-signature rope kit is, “what about NFPA?” First, NFPA 1006, Standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications, does not quantify what equipment must be used when performing a specific job performance requirement (JPR). The equipment used in rope rescuer qualifications should be representative of the equipment used by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Furthermore, NFPA 1006 is a qualification standard; it does not dictate how you respond or the technique you will use to affect a rescue. The other standard often asked about is NFPA 1983, Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services. NFPA 1983 is a manufacturer’s standard. That is if you are manufacturing carabiners, NFPA 1983 is the standard you would look to for strength and testing requirements. Furthermore, in chapter 1 NFPA 1983 not only discuss when the standard issues specific requirements; chapter 1.1.5 also states when requirements will not apply.

“This standard shall not specify requirements for any rope or associated equipment designed for mountain rescue, cave rescue, lead climbing operations, or where expected hazards and situations dictate other performance requirements.”

Also note that NFPA 1983 defines General Use and Technical Use hardware. For the mass violence response Technical Use hardware will be warranted as it generally fits in the light-weight equipment category.


Aramid fiber ropes such as Kevlar or Technora work well in the mass violence environment. Nearly every major rope manufacturer makes a rope of one of these fibers with either a nylon, polyester or aramid core. Each manufacturer has their own unique braid to include larger or smaller fibers and number of carrier fibers. Due to the variety of manufacturing methods, rope durability also varies. While Aramid fiber ropes will withstand a lot of abuse, some obviously will wear better than others. Some are stiffer than others. Most manufacturers are more than willing to send a rope short for your review.

For packability, a low diameter rope is warranted. I prefer a rope no smaller than nine millimeter as grip strength will become an issue with ropes smaller than that. Seventy feet of nine millimeter aramid rope will easily fit in a small backpack making transport easy.

One final note on rope, do not use nylon cord to hitch onto an aramid rope. Remember aramid fibers quickly dissipate heat, thus potentially melting your nylon prussik cord. Only use aramid fiber cordage or slings to hitch on to an aramid fiber rope.


As previously mentioned, hardware should be aluminum to reduce weight. Hardware should be from a reputable company; Black Diamond, Kong, Petzl and Rock Exotica are most popular and have stringent quality assurance measures. Consider the use of auto-lock type carabiners. In the heat of the moment, an unlocked carabiner may be missed with potential catastrophic results. There are many descent control devices on the market for small diameter ropes. Choose one that has a passive belay feature. That is a device that will auto-stop should the device be let go of or the handle is pulled too hard. This adds to the safety of the extraction. Rope grabs will be needed to convert the rope system into a mechanical advantage. There are many small, light-weight devices found in the mountaineering or climbing market.


Slings will be used two-fold; one type of sling will be used for anchoring and the other used as a patient drag/harness. Dyneema is a material often used in climbing and mountaineering. These slings are light weight and strong for their size — 22 kiloNewton (kN) end-to-end — making them extremely packable; again, the objective is to pare down the rope kit. A variety of sizes should be purchased to ensure all anchoring needs are covered. One note on Dyneema is it does not hold up to heat very well so, as an example, don’t wrap it around hot water or steam pipes. Of course, if you feel this is could be a potential issue, one inch nylon webbing can be substituted.

The patient sling is a very integral part of your kit. The sling should be of the loop type, with loops for the patient’s legs and arms. You would be surprised how many slings are on the today’s market. Some are designed only as drag style slings. That is, they cannot be loaded in the vertical environment. I highly recommend a sling sewn from a reputable company that has been bench tested for design strength and is specifically designed to vertically lower a patient.

Storage Options

The final kit should be able to be stored in a backpack or fanny style pack. There is a plethora of tactical gear carriers on the market. Again, I reinforce the point is to have a small and light weight kit; don’t ruin it by purchasing a giant backpack! I prefer sling type backpacks as I can swivel the gear bag around my body without removing it. We are all familiar with the phenomena of putting a bag down and equipment disappearing!

The final piece to the low-signature rope kit is to get some training. Much of the equipment you will use is outside the normal scope of a typical urban rope rescuer. In addition, the smaller diameter rope and lighter-weight hardware means extra care to reduce loads on the systems must be undertaken. An instructor will also have the experience to show end-users how to become efficient with the equipment and think “outside-the-box” when planning for a technical casualty extraction. Finally, a training organization should have ample equipment options for you to work with to help your organization decide what equipment works best for you. As you can see, working under the auspices of a qualified instructor is extremely important.

In closing, my hope is that you or your agency never have to respond to a mass violence incident. But my greater hope is that if you do you are prepared.

Mr. Jeff Matthews is a 30-year veteran of the Fire Service and currently serves as a Battalion Chief for a large metropolitan fire department. Matthews is the author of Technical Rescuer: Rope Levels I & II, and co-author of the Operational Rescue chapter in Ciottone’s Disaster Medicine, 2nd Edition. He is the owner of Technical Rescue Consultants, LLC, a South Carolina based company providing training solutions and consultation for NFPA 1006 rescue disciplines and specialist training for State US&R teams. He and his team have delivered specialty training throughout the country to State and local responders, Federal law enforcement and the Department of Defense. In addition, Matthews is an Associate Consultant with Threat Suppression, Incorporation a world leader in response solutions to Active Violence Incidents. He can be reached at

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