It was 1983, and Tannatta responded to a call with the Schenectady Fire Department. A man was trapped by a fire in a second-floor bathroom, underneath a wall-hung sink.
“He was still breathing,” Tannatta said during an interview in his Niskayuna home, “but he was gasping. By the time we got him out, it was too late.”
Tannatta, a licensed plumber as well as a firefighter, knew that if the man could have loosed the drain trap on the sink, he would’ve had a ready-made air supply at his disposal.
So, when he got home that night, Tannatta got to work.
“I made a trap that I connected with a garden hose,” he said, “just to make the concept.”
The concept evolved into the Highrise Lifeline, a system that allows people trapped by fire to connect a hose to a sink drain and breathe comfortably through a mask.
He set up an exercise in the training tower of the firehouse with both his fire chief and then-Schenectady Mayor, Frank Duci to allow him to set up an exercise in the training tower of the firehouse. The tower was filled with smoke, Tannatta connected his invention to the sink drain.
“I went in and breathed only out of that drain” Tannatta said. “And you would’ve lasted, maybe, three minutes [without it].”
Eventually, the full product was perfected and patented, and a deal was made for mass-production.
Tannatta is now ready to get the Highrise Lifeline into the hands of people whose lives it could eventually save.
Highrise Lifeline has been featured on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.” High-profile orders were placed — from a luxury hotel in California, to the Minnesota Vikings football team, to the Palace at Auburn Hills sports arena outside Detroit.
“This works. Somebody will live,” he said. “If one person lives after I put this on the market, it’s all worth it.”