Firefighters take plunge into rappelling training

Story and photos by Airman 1st Class Kenny Holston
435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Taking the stairs to the bottom was not an option as U.S. Air Forces in Europe firefighters peered from the top of a four-story building before strapping on their

harnesses and stepping over the rail.

Firefighters from around USAFE endured a rigid two-day rappelling training course that taught them how to rappel from buildings of different heights.

“Training to rappel is always a fun course,” said Staff Sgt. James Burnside, 86th Construction and Training Squadron instructor. “After students reach the top of the building, the first thing most of them do is look over the rail at the ground. The look on some of their faces is priceless.”

As students got comfortable with the height they would be rappelling from, course instructors began to explain in great detail what it would take to successfully rappel to the ground.

“There’s a lot that goes into a successful rappel,” Sergeant Burnside said. “Before we send students over the rail, we ensure they understand and fully grasp how everything is to be operated.”

Students executed their training task using a two-harness system. Prior to rappelling, students became familiar with how each harness worked and which

harness performed specific functions.

“Understanding how each harness works is vital before stepping over the rail,” said Staff Sgt. Jeff Wyatt, 86th CTS instructor. “In the event something happens during a rappelling mission, we have to be in tune with our gear to possibly figure out the problem and come up with a solution.”

Once students figured out how their harness worked, they were prepared for the big step over the rail.

“This is the best part, stepping over the rail and letting go,” said Tech. Sgt. Tim Smith, 835th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “We really work ourselves up for this, so when we finally get the chance to perform the task it’s a great


Students grasped their ropes as they found themselves in a full vertical position with their backs parallel to the ground and their feet flat against the building wall. They slowly worked the ropes, letting themselves rappel at a steady pace.

“I’ve gone through this training before, but it’s always an intense feeling on the way down,” Sergeant Smith said. “The feeling is so much more intense when you’re

rappelling to save someone’s life.”

Rappelling is a vital tool used by firefighters when responding to different circumstances. Some-times it is the only way for firefighters to get to victims in distress.

“This is great training for each of the students,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Stevens, 86th CTS instructor. “Rappelling can be a big part of our job when we respond to certain situations. Sometimes, rappelling is the only way for us to rescue victims. So, we push students to fully understand each function and to become as efficient as possible.”

From the fear of stepping over the rail to the rush of letting go, the students finished the program with another crucial tool to save lives.