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One man's 9/11 idea to rescue people from high-rise buildings

Many of those who died on 9/11 jumped from the upper floors of the World Trade Center in New York. San Francisco doctor Kevin Stone has invented the "Rescue Reel" personal escape device that might have saved lives that day.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / September 10, 2011

Dr. Kevin Stone, inventor of the "Rescue Reel" demonstrates his device on a building in San Francisco. It's designed to let people escape from buildings as high as 1,000 feet.

Rescue Reel, Inc.

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New York

On 9/11 Kevin Stone, like most Americans, was horrified as he watched the televised coverage of people jumping out of the upper floors of the World Trade Center to the concrete hundreds of feet below.

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But, Dr. Stone, an orthopedic surgeon in San Francisco, remembers thinking, “This is something I ought to be able to solve.”

Now, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, Stone thinks he has a product – he calls it Rescue Reel – that would get people safely down from the tops of skyscrapers up to 1,000 feet high.

It involves attaching a harness around your body. Attached to the harness is a Kevlar rope that is secured at one end to a radiator or pipe. You then pop out of a window and rappel down the face of the building using a device which controls the rate of descent at 6 feet per second. Think of it as a fishing reel with a human attached.

“It’s something to use when you have no other choice,” he says.

According to Stone, there are 49,000 fires that take place in high rise buildings each year. The problems of evacuating people from those buildings are multiple: sometimes the fire escapes become smoke-filled; most fire departments only have ladders that reach seven stories; and, if there are people in wheel-chairs, they are told to wait in the fire escape until a fireman can carry them to safety.

“Once you are above seven or eight floors, you are basically out of luck,” says Rick McGee, a battalion fire chief in the San Francisco Bay area. “The hope is that you can work your way up to get people who are trapped out.”

As he worked on his Rescue Reel, Stone found it to be a complex problem. He wanted a device that would hold a 400 pound individual as well as an 80 pound person but move them both at the same speed.

At the same time, it had to move someone from an upper floor of a building to the ground at a good clip – roughly two seconds per floor – so someone would be on the ground in two minutes after fleeing from the sixtieth floor of a building. In addition, the individual could be in a panic so it had to be simple to operate. And, it had to be something that could be adapted for someone in a wheelchair but not be so bulky it would not fit in a file cabinet.

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