Category: Archive

The way down

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

A Derry City native, O’Kane, who works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, usually found himself painting such edifices as the George Washington Bridge and in 1993 he found himself working on the massive antenna atop the north tower when it was rehabilitated for the first time since its installation in 1979.
Special harnesses and safety ropes held him in place in such dangerous spots, so while on the George Washington Bridge in the days after the 9/11 attacks, O’Kane began to think up a system that would allow a person to escape from a burning building and reach either the ground or the safety of a lower level without needing to understand how to lower oneself on a rope.
“I got to thinking, there has to be some way to have people descend at a slow and steady rate,” he said, speaking from his Long Island home. O’Kane settled in the U.S. in the 1980s and began working for the Port Authority.
“The tools and ropes I was using all the time made me look at some way of controlling descent,” he continued.
The result was the Lifecender, or at least its prototype, the world’s first controlled descent rescue device. The Lifecender is now being manufactured for O’Kane by a Michigan company, which expects to have sold 50,000 units by the end of 2003, with a projected 100,000-unit sale for 2004.
The device consists of a vest, a rope and a descent device, designed into one simple package that makes it as simple to use as a life jacket, according to the Lifecender website.
High-tech materials are used in the manufacture — the rope is made of a substance similar to Kevlar bulletproof vests and has been tested up to 1,200 pounds. Each Lifecender device is guaranteed to carry a 350-pound person.
“You never go beyond 14 feet per second,” explained O’Kane, adding that the descent speed on his device can also be slowed to a complete stop by using a simple lever.
“The whole thing is about 5 pounds weight, less than 5 pounds in fact,” he said.
How does it work?
“You just let go and descend,” O’Kane said. The Lifecender’s rope is anchored to any fixed or heavy object in a room and then the person puts on the life-jacket-like vest and climbs out the window. Even if he loses his grip and falls, descent, as O’Kane stressed, is controlled to a maximum of 14 feet per second.
He admits that the Lifecender currently only allows a descent of a maximum of seven stories, but points out that this could be more than enough to get a person from a burning floor to the safety of a floor several stories below. The Lifecender is, of course, fire resistant and will be developed to allow for much greater descents.
“I don’t know if this would have helped at the trade center,” O’Kane said. “But let’s face it, 4,000 people die in building fires in the U.S. every year on average and about 50 percent of jumps from only the second story of a burning building are fatal.”
He added that it is most of the smoke inhalation that kills victims of fires, therefore a rapid escape from a smoky area if vital for people trying to survive a building fire.
Interest in O’Kane’s device has been rapid and sustained, but what surprised him and his business partners was that after a patent search, they found that no one else appeared to be developing a similar escape mechanism. They went straight ahead with research and development.
“I took an early prototype over to Randalls Island [where the Fire Department of New York has its training ground], and they said,: ‘Pat, it’s going to take some development.’ ” But after a controlled descent by O’Kane, the FDNY and other U.S. fire departments have expressed interest, as have hotel chains and the U.S. military as well, he said.
For O’Kane, who saw the devastation firsthand at ground zero after 9/11, it is satisfaction enough that the Lifecender will offer people a way of escape from burning buildings.
“Interest is phenomenal,” he said. O’Kane and his team are taking the Lifecender to the Baltimore Fire Expo this month.
The Lifecender can be seen at www.lifecender.com. Further information is available at: 1 (888) 201-1850.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese