Tech Rescue

Avoiding Lift Bag Ejection

Issue 7 and Volume 9.

Lift bags allow responders to use a pressurized air source to lift and displace objects. Yet due to the overall working characteristics and the heavy loads that lift bags are subjected to, the amount of potential energy that can eject from under the load poses a great hazard to responders in the flight path. Lift bag ejection may occur because of an unexpected load shift, or the over-inflation of lift bags that are not properly centered.

Proper or Practical Use

In 2003, a firefighter/fire service product salesperson was approximately eight to 10 feet away from an in use lift bag when it ejected from under the load and struck him in the head and chest, resulting in fatal injuries. The NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program subsequently issued several safety recommendations for lift bag use, in addition to the standard manufacturers’ recommendation to center the load on the lift bag to prevent violent ejection during pressurization.

Another recommendation by most manufacturers is to maintain as much distance as possible from the lift bag(s). Although it sounds good in theory for everyone to stay out of the ejection path, how realistic is it to expect responders to self-govern themselves at a stressful, constantly changing incident? Responders may not have the option to stay away from the lift bag for several reasons:

  • Patient position:The patient may be positioned close to a needed lifting point. When no other options are available, the lift bags may have to be placed close to the patient. This will also necessitate medical personnel working in close proximity to the lift bags.
  • Cribbing points: As we raise the load, cribbing should be used to secure the load in the unlikely event of a lift bag system failure or a load shift. As with patient position, the optimal spot may be near the lifting point.
  • Hose length and amount: Most hoses associated with lift bag systems are 16 or 32 feet and allow the controller operator to be only a short distance away from the lift bags. In addition, some departments may elect to use inline relief valves positioned on the lift bags because they do not have enough hoses for the amount of lift bags in operation. This would require a responder to be in close proximity to the lift bag to disconnect the hose(s) while under the load.

Safe Working Practice

Responders should determine the potential ejection path of the lift bag(s) by observing the lift bag placement and anticipating the results of displacing the load. The lift bag(s) should be inflated slowly to prevent possible shifting of the load and confirm the anticipated movement of the load and ejection path. If shifting starts to occur, stop the lift, stabilize the load and take preventative measures. Keep in mind that the ejection path has the potential to move during the operation of the lift bag due to load shifts and contact points between the load and the lift bag. Pay attention to the operation and change the safe working areas as applicable.

Imagine a 90-degree area turned on-point and in-line with the potential ejection path extending away from the lift bag location for a distance determined by scene conditions. There should be no personnel operating in or moving through this area while the lift operation is taking place. In situations when lift bags are used at angles or when heavy loads are lifted, it may be necessary to extend those barriers farther, even to the extent of moving bystanders. The more physical barriers we can create to give the danger area more relevance, the safer the entire operation will become.

As seen in the provided diagram, the disentanglement supervisor can position themself on one side of the danger zone to establish an imaginary line no personnel should cross. They should select the side that gives them the best viewpoint of the most personnel. Typically that would be the side where the patient is positioned. The other barrier can be established by the actual hoses connected to the lift bags. This will allow the controller operator and the disentanglement supervisor to still have voice and visual contact. The operator can serve to help communicate and coordinate with personnel on the opposite side if the disentanglement supervisor’s vision is blocked. If these positions have been determined prior to placing the lift bags, orient them so the hose lines extend towards the controller’s position. The supervisor and the controller operator thereby create the danger area that no personnel should enter.

Remember: Always ensure the load is cribbed during the lifting process. This will significantly reduce the likelihood of lift bag ejection, or at least limit the forces of trajectory and decrease the distance the lift bag may travel should ejection occur.


Lift bags are a very useful tool, but many times responders take for granted the potential energy they possess. A potential ejection path should be determined and safe working practices implemented to ensure responders, the patient and bystanders are not endangered.


NIOSH. “Volunteer Fire Fighter/Fire Service Products Salesman Dies After Being Struck by Dislodged Rescue Airbag – South Dakota.” July 27, 2004. Retrieved from