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Flight tower gets new escape route

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
Baker Life Chute representative Mark Baker waits at the base of the control tower Jan. 5 as an Airman evacuates using the Baker Life Chute. Mr. Baker was on hand to install and train both air traffic controllers and rescue personnel on how to properly deploy the unit.
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Baker Life Chute representative Mark Baker waits at the base of the control tower Jan. 5 as an Airman evacuates using the Baker Life Chute. Mr. Baker was on hand to install and train both air traffic controllers and rescue personnel on how to properly deploy the unit. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- On Jan. 5, McChord's flight tower unveiled the Baker Life Chute, a fire escape mechanism that simplifies evacuation routes in case people are trapped in the tower during a fire.

The 102-foot long, nylon braided chute has an aluminum and stainless steel framework and can be dropped from the catwalk of the tower to the ground during a fire.

"If there's a fire in this building, there's only one way out -- the stairs or a helicopter," said Master Sgt. Steven Mann, 62nd Operations Support Squadron. "This gives us another way [to exit the tower]. It is what all the towers across the Air Force are putting in."

The chute, which is bolted to the railing on the catwalk, can be deployed in 3-4 minutes and can hold more than 80 tons at a time, said Mark Baker with Baker Safety Equipment, the Delaware-based company that manufactures the chute.

During an evacuation, the chute's straps are secured to a bar on the catwalk and then attached to an emergency vehicle or concrete barrier at the base of the tower. People evacuating step into the chute and control their decent down the chute by pushing out their feet.

"The first time using the chute is a little scary," said air traffic control watch supervisor Tom Quick, 62nd OSS, who tried out the chute at a previous base. "But once you get going you can control the speed at which you fall."

Each chute is custom-built to each tower's specifications. The chute built for McChord cost $47,000.
But Mr. Baker was quick to point out that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

"Even if it saves one person's life, how much is that worth?" Mr. Baker said.

McChord's flight tower became the 36th military facility the company has equipped with a Baker Life Chute, Mr. Baker said.

The company, which has been around since 1984, makes the majority of the chutes for military towers and oil refineries.