Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A hockey puck shaped device could stop your fall. Find out how it works for firefighters, arborists, and you

This firefighter is going down the outside of a four story building with the help of a device that controls the speed of his descent.
Bailout Systems
This firefighter is going down the outside of a four-story building with the help of a device that controls the speed of his descent.

What if you could control the force of gravity to avoid injury? A couple of Cincinnati inventors have a device that allows people and objects to descend slowly and carefully.

Bailout Systems is the brainchild of retired Navy diver Michael Ragsdale, who along with mechanical engineer Ben Krupp, have come up with something the size of a hockey puck. When used with a rope, it allows people and objects to descend in a controlled manner.

Ragsdale has a friend on the Covington Fire Department who encouraged him to develop it for firefighters. His friend thought it possibly could have prevented Black Sunday in which members of the New York City Fire Department had to jump out a window after becoming trapped in two separate fires. Three died and four were seriously injured.

Ragsdale was also encouraged to develop Bailout after he had a serious fall at Red River Gorge and was in a coma for three days. He realized current descent systems are not adequate.

What is it and how does it work?

Bailout Systems uses old technology to slow people and objects down. It’s an induction braking system like what's used by roller coasters and elevators.

“Induction is a magnetic flux that creates braking torque. So, it is always there,” says Bailout’s mechanical engineer Ben Krupp. “Magnets, so long as you do not exceed their Curie temperature, you can trust that they will always be there.”

As this video demonstrates, a firefighter attaches a rope to a windowsill or radiator and descends using the device to slow him down. Bailout is smaller now, the size of a hockey puck, with additional prototypes.

Think of a big fishhook attached to something inside and the firefighter simply falls out the window, slipping through space. The device lowers them to the ground as if a person was assisting.

As Ragsdale continues to fundraise, people have pointed out other uses for Bailout. They include: preventing falls of hunters in tree stands; gently lowering branches by arborists; helping an elderly, off-balance person sit down in a chair; lowering a 20,000-pound load from a military helicopter to the ground.

A Bailout device will sell for nearly $700. Ragsdale expects to get through all the regulations to sell to fire departments by the end of next year. Arborists are interested in his prototype.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.