Proficiency in ropes and knots can help you do one thing — overcome gravity. Most of what we do is hold, stabilize, lift, move or lower loads. The answer to our question is in the type of service your department provides — fire only, fire and rescue, rescue only. In this article we will try to help explain the training paths that can be explored in one of the oldest and most basic of fire/rescue skills, ropes and knots.
The great thing about our business is that there are many facets to the fire/rescue/EMS industry. There are so many paths to take, a new firefighter or rescuer may not even know the direction they may want to take their career. Initial certifications, such as Firefighter I and II, Technical Rescuer, are based on NFPA standards and are a great place to start. But, one should remember that NFPA suggests this as is a minimum standard. The path you or your department takes will also dictate the type and amount of rope training you will need.
Firefighter rope skills
In North Carolina, IFSAC accredited Firefighter Certification candidates are taught 12 hours of basic ropes and knots skills. This covers a minimum of eight basic knots, types of rope, and care for rope. Also taught is how to use various knots for hoisting equipment. This is also the case with NFPA 1001, the Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications. Life safety rope and rope rescue are mentioned but not covered in as much detail as the rescue certification programs.
As we progress past the basic firefighting skills, some of us never progress in our rope skills or worse, let them fall by the wayside. A firefighter that has mastery of his or her skills will train on their rope skills just as they would train for forcible entry, hose streams and ventilation. We should be training our firefighters to use rope for utility, life-safety, RIT and emergency egress.
Technical Rescue specialties all rely heavily on rope skills.
When used properly a basic knowledge of utility ropes can make the firefighter’s job much easier. We can hoist ventilation and or forcible entry tools to an elevated work place, tie off the halyard of the extension ladder and secure the drain of a portable “drop tank.” Rope can also be used to secure or to help control a hose line. As with any form of rope work the limits to how you can use ropes are, skill level, equipment and your imagination.
Rope skills used for life safety in primary and secondary search during the structure fire, RIT and emergency egress should be practiced often and built into our training programs. Life safety is our number one priority at any incident. This is not just a skill set for the more advanced firefighter, “truck guys” or the “rescue gurus.” Departments should be developing SOGs and training programs to address this along with the traditional fundamentals of firefighting to ensure “Everyone Goes Home.”
Departments that provide Technical Rescue response rely heavily on rope rescue skills, so it stands to reason that rope should be an important part of their training programs. North Carolina’s IFSAC accredited Technical Rescuer Certification programs follow NFPA 1006, the standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications. The 21 hour “general” portion of this program covers life safety rope, hardware, equipment, and no less than 14 knots to be used. This class also covers basic rigging, anchors and lifts and lowers. This is considerably more than what is covered in the Firefighter I and II ropes or rescue class. In addition to the general section of NFPA 1006, chapter six covers the rope rescue specialty. The rope specialty goes into much more detail and covers more advanced techniques. Multiple ways of effecting the same rescue are covered to give the rescuer more options so he or she can adapt to most any complex rescue incident.
Most rescue specialties such as confined space, trench, collapse and swift water rescue involve building systems that involve rope, so it is recommended that departments who perform these types of rescue integrate rope skills into their training programs. NFPA 1670, the standard for Operations and Training for Technical Rescue Incidents, also recommends that SOGs and training be in place to insure rescuer safety while operating at a technical rescue incident.
The key to being proficient with ropes or any skill is practice and repetition.
I heard a friend and trusted college tell a class, “just because you have a few guys that can tie knots, that does not make you a Technical Rescue team.” The point I think he was trying to make is you have to train together to act as a team. It is not enough that we know 14 knots, but we need to know how to put them to use in a rope rescue system, and how to act as a team to use that system to perform the rescue at hand. The old adage, “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot,” does not work in technical rescue systems.
Improving individual skills
So how can you hone your personal skills? The answer is simple, practice. The key to making yourself better is to practice until the knots are tied by “muscle memory.” My suggestion is not to leave it in the last class you took, or the last training session with your department, but to cut a piece of rope and use it to practice with. The rope you practice with should be close to the diameter you are going to be using in the field and approximately 10 feet in length. Practice on your down time on shift, or while watching TV. Continue until you can tie the knots without looking at them. When you can tie them with confidence and know when it is tied right, or wrong at a glance, then practice the applications for the knots. Drag the equipment off the truck every now and then and tie the stokes basket, rig an anchor system or practice lifting equipment.
For firefighter emergency egress drills, rope work should be practiced with gloves on. Rope rescue training should be practiced with rope rescue gloves to ensure that you can tie the knots in any situation without compromising safety.
The paths that we have discussed are very different but still much the same. They show a basic idea of the initial training that an individual might need to accomplish a certification and how to become proficient at that level. They also show the departments need to continue the training and integrate it into evolutions so we work as a team, and not as individuals with a few special skills. Each department is different and each member has their own set of skills where they excel. Everyone does not need to be a rope guru, but at a minimum we all need to know and practice the basic skills, and where we fit into the team.