In this discussion we will explore some of these questions and different schools of thought dealing with technical rescue teams and some of the tools we need to be equipped with both mentally and physically.
Within our little group of instructors/friends, each of us have different teaching styles and methods. The first thing we learn as instructors is everyone learns differently. One of the next things we learn is to know who your target audience is. Each instructor delivers material in different ways. Most specialize in the subjects they are strong in. Some instructors may stick with the same methods and never change, while some are always looking for a way to “build a better mousetrap.” Successful instructors teach the way that suits both their strengths and the needs of the target audience.
When you are first starting out on the path to becoming a rescue guru we learn the fundamentals of technical rescue. We usually start out with basic ropes and knots, simple mechanical advantages, rigging, lift and lowers, basic vehicle extrication, along with learning how the department can be most efficient on a rescue scene. NFPA 1006 refers to this as “general” rescue training. It is important for beginners to learn the basics and become proficient at these procedures. We learn and practice these methods until we cannot only do them right, but until doing the right things become a matter of habit. During this training we are taught with a few basic techniques and with very little equipment. This type of training is meant to build your skill set and your confidence from the bottom up. Think of your skills as tools and learning new skills just adds to your “tool box.” After we learn the basics of rescue, we then can move on to more specialized methods of rescue such as Vehicle Rescue, Rope Rescue Trench or Confined Space, just to name a few.
Adding to the Tool Box
As we grow in our rescue career, we need to expand our skill set. There is something to be said about keeping things simple, but no two rescues are the same. We need to know more than one way to “skin a cat.” There is no one right way to handle a given problem, but there are millions of wrong ways. Specialized rescue training provides multiple ways to handle similar problems to help combat the uncertainty of each call. “Every high angle situation is different, with varying circumstances in terms of weather and terrain. Therefore a well-trained individual with good judgment is preferable to one who is well trained to perform in only one way.” (Vines, Hudson 2004)
This line of thinking not only applies to rope rescue but all disciplines. Using this school of thought leaves us with options when presented with a difficult rescue. Two different rescuers will seldom come up with the same plan of action. Rescuers must come up with a consensus on what plan is best. This is accomplished by asking a few basic questions.
- Is this a safe method?
- Is this a proven method?
- Is this method in the best interest of the victim?
- How much time is this method going to take?
- Do we have the manpower and equipment to perform this method, and if not, how long will it take to get it here?
The victim’s overall condition is going to play a big factor in the final decision of what method of rescue we are going to use. If there is more than one usable plan, then the plan not used often serves as an alternative. (Plan B)
Building the Equipment Cache
Much like our education, in the beginning we use the basic equipment and keeping it simple. We learn how to make each piece of equipment work to its maximum potential. We also learn the limitations of each item. There is no magic wand or silver bullet to any type of rescue so it pays to know how to use more than one device that does the same job. For example, a “Rescue 8” will work nicely for lowering a victim off of a building or rock, but we need to avoid using it for lowers in excess of 100 feet. Using a break bar rack or a break tube are two preferred methods in this situation. If we depend too heavily on one device it significantly limits our capacity to do the job. If someone says, “I only use a____, because that is the only thing I am comfortable with,” this is usually a training issue and not an equipment issue. We keep a full toolbox for the same reason a mechanic does. Different jobs need different tools. There is no “do everything tool” out there.
Using Your Tools as a Team
Just as there are many types of tools on the job, there are many types of teams. Your team may be a part of your local fire department that only does vehicle extraction and basic rope work. Your department may be considered a “Medium or Heavy Rescue.” There are Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams, Swift Water Rescue Teams; the list goes on and on. Your team is based on the needs of your area and by doing a “needs assessment.” The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) can either train and equip personnel, contract with another agency or a combination of both to take care of the needs in your area. (NFPA 1670) Your training and equipment needs are largely based on the needs of your community. That being said, it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking, “we will never use this skill. Why are we learning it?”
In North Carolina the N.C. Association of Rescue and EMS sponsor a voluntary Rescue Certification for departments or squads. The department can qualify under Rescue Specialties or under “Light, Medium or Heavy” Rescue. By qualifying to meet these standards the department can assure they have the equipment to meet the needs of the jurisdiction and justify the funding for equipment and training. More information and PDF copies of the standards for training and equipment can be downloaded at www.ncarems.org.
Never Ever Stop Learning
This advice can be applied to any areas of fire, rescue or EMS. Once we start down the path to success, we need to keep going. Remember and practice the fundamentals but after we have mastered even the advanced skills, we need to look forward. Keep your nose in the trade journals to learn the new schools of thought and what studies are being done on new methods and equipment. At one time using aluminum carabiners for rescue was heavily frowned upon unless it was a one-person load, or if you used two of them opposite and opposed. But with new equipment that meets NFPA general standards out there, it is not uncommon to see aluminum equipment in the gear bags. So it is with other equipment being engineered today, who knows what will be out in a few years?
There are many books in print on the subject of technical rescue. Start a personal library and read often. No one in the technical rescue field knows everything there is to know about the job. It is important that we learn from each other, every time we teach a class, take a class, train together or even talk to each other about the different specialties.
Keep an open mind; work with each other to figure out the best solutions to any given situation. It’s OK if we all don’t all agree on the little things. Keep practicing and keep learning as a team. If we use our resources wisely, we can accomplish anything.