Anaheim Fire & Rescue becomes first O.C. agency to buy Rapid Air Cushion for jumpers

By Greg Hardesty

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.

Anaheim PD Officer Lucy Sandoval (left), a tactical negotiator, talks a distraught man from jumping off an overpass of the 57 Freeway on May 9, 2016. L.A. County Fire assisted on the call with a RAC (Rapid Air Cushion). Photo by Sgt. Daron Wyatt, PIO Anaheim PD

“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.

A Rapid Air Cushion is set up inside Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Station No. 2’s apparatus bay for training. Vents on the side of the air bag are designed to deflate the bag when someone lands on it to prevent the person from bouncing off.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

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.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Capt. Ryan Lazar climbs inside a fully inflated Rapid Air Cushion (RAC).
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

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.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s new Rapid Air Cushion (RAC) at the North Net Training Center during an exercise in early March. Photo courtesy of AF&R

A RAC (Rapid Air Cushion) belonging to the Los Angeles County Fire Department is placed underneath a man threatening to jump off the 57 Freeway on May 9, 2016, in Anaheim. Photo by Sgt. Daron Wyatt, PIO Anaheim PD

From left, Gregg Plumlee, James McDuffie, Nick Pope and Trent Morris of Anaheim Fire & Rescue roll up the department’s new Rapid Air Cushion (RAC) during a training exercise at the North Net Training Center in early March. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

John Plauche of JTS Safety Products, left, trains Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters on the proper setup and use of the RAC.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Firefighters from Anaheim Fire & Rescue run through the setup and tear down of the RAC at Station No. 2.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Photo by Sgt. Daron Wyatt, PIO Anaheim PD