Leaping for life

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A retired fireman comes up with a quick, safer way to exit a burning building.

LEWISTON – As Buzzy Metayer dropped from a fourth-floor window Tuesday dressed in oxygen mask and turnout gear, he was thinking about Christmas Day 20 years ago.

Two Lewiston firefighters leapt from the third story of a building in 1986 to escape a blaze that exploded one floor below them.

Metayer knew them well.

One fractured his back. The other broke both ankles.

Metayer retired from the Lewiston Fire Department that year as a captain. Since then, one question has plagued him: how to escape a burning building quickly without getting hurt.

Now, at 69, he has the answer.

To prove it, he dangled from the top floor of a burned-out Blake Street apartment building Tuesday. A dozen gasping onlookers peered up from the sidewalk across the street.

Metayer dropped a couple of feet before the cable and rope attached to a waist belt cinched tight. Then he scooted down the outside of the building in less than a minute.

He landed lightly to applause.

“It works great,” he said as firefighters surrounded him like a pit crew, disassembling his gear.

Metayer is certain his invention – he calls it the Buzz Out – would have saved his fellow firefighters from injury in that 1986 fire.

“I haven’t a doubt,” he said. “I think it could save lives.”

Here’s how it works. The trapped firefighter swings what looks like a giant fish hook through the wall covering, anchoring the hook to a wall stud.

The hook is linked to a short length of cable. At the end of the cable is a loop. A ring snaps to the loop. A 50-foot length of rope coiled in a pouch at the firefighter’s waist feeds through the ring. The firefighter rappels down the wall tethered to the rope.

Had the Buzz Out failed, Metayer wouldn’t have hit the sidewalk too hard. Under his firefighter’s coat, he wore a harness. It was attached to a rope that was anchored in the wall of the fourth-floor room he exited.

It worked.

Metayer said he didn’t have any plans for the device. He can’t afford to patent it or reproduce it. It cost about $300 to make, he said.

He approached his former employer, but was told insurance wouldn’t cover its use. He doesn’t know whether anything like it has been tried at other departments, but he doesn’t think so.

He’s convinced of its value.

“You’re a dead man or close to it without it. With this thing at least you have a chance,” he said.

Looking down, he noticed a broken fingernail.

“I hope this is the last time I have to do this,” he said.


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