Gear Test: Martinell’s R-30 Rescue Reel

Issue 5 and Volume 3.

Search lines are an essential piece of equipment, even in those bread-and-butter split-level homes where it’s easy to get turned around. A basement rec room where you’d expect to find plenty of space to move around may be occupied by an eccentric collector’s boxes of “stuff,” creating narrow, winding lanes of travel that feel like a maze. And in commercial structures, search lines are essential, as employees often ignore fire codes by piling stock too high or leaving little to no aisle space. No matter where you are, when the conditions are smoke-banked to the floor, it’s easy to get disoriented and difficult to quickly retrace your path to the exit.

There’s no magic to deploying a search line. Secure the end to an object at the entrance, or to the last area where the path of travel to the exit is obvious.

As Tom Brennan used to preach, if you can’t see your feet, crawl. Imagine you’re crawling and deploying your search line. You then realize that you’ve searched a closet or dead-end hall. You and your partner back up, but in the process, you end up with slack that gets tangled, bunched or snagged. It would be nice to be able to get the slack out and continue.

Martinell’s R-30 Rescue Reel does just that. The Rescue Reel is a small reel (just under 1 lb.) that clips to your SCBA strap or utility belt. A small, non-locking, utility-type carabiner is attached to the end of 30 feet of half-inch nylon flat webbing that’s wound on a self-winding spool. All the materials and hardware are stainless steel. One side of the webbing features small reflective arrows that point to the user, aiding in locating downed or trapped firefighters.

I’m as skeptical as the next guy about new technology. (My bicycles are from the 60s and 70s.) My concern was that once the webbing was deployed and there was slack in the system, the webbing would jump the spool and jam in the side plates. The model I tested was 27 feet long—not the standard 30 feet that’s sold on the R-30. With the model I tested, I was unable to get the webbing to jump the wheel and jam despite several attempts to quickly pull webbing out and allow it to quickly rewind. It never jammed when deploying. Steve Martinell, who designed and manufactures the reel with his son, Craig (a firefighter), told me this is also true of the 30′ model.

Note: The red highlighted user information card states that the R-30 is not a weight-supporting bailout tool. I have no doubt that the 600-lb.-rated nylon webbing would support my weight, but it would be quite difficult to control the descent with any type of friction wrap or device, as the webbing is difficult to squeeze with fire gloves. The non-locking utility carabiner is bar-tacked to the webbing in such a fashion that it is captured and will not rotate while hanging from your SCBA or belt. The clip is not intended to support a live load nor is the sewn attachment to the webbing.

The self-winding reel excels during large-area searches where a longer commercial search line is stretched and secured. Shorter search lines can be clipped into this main search line. When finished with the search, the reel is already rewound so it’s ready to move up or down the line to search another area.

The small utility non-locking carabiner works fine, but removal becomes a two-handed job with most fire gloves. The index finger of my glove kept getting caught, and I had to use my other hand to push the webbing away. This may be my fault, as the prototype I saw at the FireRescue Conference and Expo in Las Vegas in October had a larger carabiner and some additional hardware on the end. I suggested streamlining the connection point, which they did, and I probably told them to use a smaller, less expensive clip at the end. To rapidly remove the search line with one hand, you can simply change the small clip for a larger, non-locking, non-keyway carabiner—not a big deal, as most other search lines require two hands.

The reflective arrows are nice, but they’re only on one side. As you can see from the photo of the reel being deployed, the arrows ended up facing downward. Additionally, the webbing is not heat-resistant. If that’s a concern, carry a heat-resistant cord or webbing in your bag instead of the reel. With its quick deployment and retraction, the R-30 is an excellent tool for searching the floor above and areas adjacent to the fire.

The bottom line: I like it. When 30 feet isn’t enough, simply connect two so you can travel 60 feet. At $189.95, the Rescue Reel is an expensive search line. I like the self-winding feature, as I can quickly move on and not re-stuff or wad up my cord when I move to the next area.


Martinell’s R-30 Rescue Reel

  • Quick deployment and retraction;
  • Lightweight;
  • Reflective arrows aid in locating downed firefighters; and
  • Webbing did not jam.


  • Requires two-handed removal;
  • Webbing isn’t heat-resistant; and
  • Reflective arrows are only on one side.


Martinell Inc.
P.O. Box 4104
Portland, OR 97208
Tel: 503/939-7376
E-mail: mart[email protected]
Web: www.martinellinc.com