With an average of eight to 10 incidents per year in the city of Anaheim alone involving suicidal people threatening to jump off freeway overpasses or tall buildings, perhaps the following fact will come as a surprise:
Until recently, no fire service agency in Orange County has had its own huge airbag to be deployed and placed underneath would-be jumpers to cushion their fall — and save their lives.
That changed in January, when Anaheim Fire & Rescue became the first public safety agency in O.C. to acquire a RAC, for Rapid Air Cushion. A RAC can inflate in 30 seconds into a 9-foot-tall lifesaving tool.
“It gives us one more option when incidents like this happen,” said AF&R Deputy Chief Pat Russell, who oversees the agency’s Operations Division.
In most cases, the AF&R’s USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) team, working in conjunction with Anaheim PD tactical negotiators, are sent to help end an incident without a death or injury. During every shift, seven USAR specialists are available for deployment.
Prior to January, any time an O.C. fire or law enforcement agency was dispatched to a jumper call, the agency had to rely on the L.A. County Fire Department to come down to O.C. to deploy a RAC.
But because the RAC — if it was available — would be coming from the Walnut/Diamond Bar area (usually on traffic-choked freeways), precious time would be lost.
So far, AF&R’s RAC has been deployed to two incidents, Russell said. But in both cases, it did not need to be inflated because the incidents had been resolved by the time AF&R crews arrived.
In addition to incidents involving jumpers — even if a person decides not to commit suicide, he or she faces the risk of falling — the RAC also will be useful during structure fires in which people are trapped above ground, Russell said.
Discussions to acquire a RAC, which is kept at Station 2, where AF&R’s USAR team is based, began about a year ago, Russell said, and $25,000 was approved in AF&R’s budget to purchase it.
To read about the Anaheim PD’s tactical negotiators, click here.