ROCHESTER HILLS -- As Pat O'Kane dug out bodies of
firefighters from the rubble following the World Trade Center attacks,
he thought there must be a way to help people escape from burning
He called his friend, Randy Goodman, in Lake Orion, with whom he had
done some entrepreneurial work in the past. O'Kane, who also makes a
living painting New York's bridges, was familiar with rope and harness
systems for dangling high in the air and thought maybe some of that
equipment could be modified to create an escape product.
Within two weeks, he and Goodman were working on a prototype. Within
two years, their product went through several designs and $1.5 million
in research and development cash. After seeking the advice and approval
of fire departments around the country, their company, American Escape
Systems Inc. in Rochester Hills, is ready to launch LifeCender.
The portable escape harness helps people escape from fires in
multistoried buildings. It comes in a briefcase-type box that can be
carried, left at home or work. Different anchor systems attach a rope in
the event of a fires, with the other end attached to a vest that the
person puts on, then escapes through a window. An apparatus on the vest
slowly lowers the escapee, making it a hands-free descent. A control can
adjust the speed.
LifeCender goes on sale for the first time July 1, beginning first
with their Web site, http://www.lifecender.com/ AES
sought the technical approval of fire departments before planning the
product launch, Goodman said.
"If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for the public,"
AES is giving LifeCenders to the New York Fire Department, which
plans to test LifeCender in July, said Jim Long, press secretary for the
"We're looking into it. It may be a helpful device to civilians and
possibly helpful to us," Long said.
Paul Hashagen, a retired New York firefighter, saw the LifeCender
while working at a department training prior to retirement. He was
impressed with the design and now plans to sell LifeCender through a
training company he has formed. In 28 years of firefighting, he lost
friends and believes LifeCender could have helped in some situations.
"I think it will revolutionize firefighting," Hashagen said.
LifeCender covers escapes from two-story through seven-story
buildings. AES is working on making LifeCenders for buildings up to 25
stories and possibly skyscrapers. The cost ranges between $149 and $259.
Henson said he expects to sell 50,000 to 60,000 units in the first six
months and up to one million next year.
LifeCender isn't the only escape product out there.
"There were a lot of new escape products after 9-11," said Margie
Coloian, public affairs manager for the National Fire Protection
Association in Quincy, Mass.
One such product is a parachute made by Home Defense Products in
Washington D.C., but the price tag is a hefty $1,899.99.
Gary Anglebrandt is a Metro Detroit free-lance