Time honored rescue skills that will never be outdated


CarolinaFireJournal - Bob Twomey
Bob Twomey
10/14/2010 -

Rescue training has changed greatly in the last 30 years, what with the advent of new rescue equipment and the skills required to apply, or utilize, that equipment effectively and safely. There are more varieties and types of equipment to perform various rescues than ever before. The “general rescuer,” and even the rescue specialist, have more tools available now than ever. New standards for rescue are more prevalent, along with ever-changing protocols, SOPs, SOGs, etc., all in an effort to be the “best and safest we can be.” We NEED to be proficient with new technologies, procedures and skills. The public has a right to expect this, and we have an obligation to provide it, right?

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Secured ladder in verticle position in preperation for lowering victim to ground.

When I began my volunteer rescue career 34 years ago, there were no Hurst extrication tools, no hydraulic rams, no cutters, no reciprocating saws, no brake bars racks or brake tubes, or even much in the way of locking carabiners. “Goldline” rescue rope was the standard for high level rescues, and poly-plus was the standard for rigging. We did have a lot of military surplus trucks and equipment. A truck-mounted winch, chains, and cable come-alongs, were a rescuers’ best friends in an extrication — along with a good wrecker operator, and a lot of hand tools. If a department was lucky enough to own a “Cecil’s Rig” for extrication, they were considered by their peers as being advanced in extrication. If your department had a motorized flat-bottom boat or a “v” hull boat — all was well for water rescues.

My, how things have changed! Was rescue just simpler back in those days? How were any of us ever able to survive rescues? And, how did all our victims survive being rescued?

It is inevitable that rescue technology should change to meet changing demands. So too should our training adapt to current technologies and potential, or actual rescue needs. But I would submit to you that, pound for pound, rescues were just as challenging “way back then” as they are today — just somehow different in how we approached them — with the equipment available.

While it is mandatory on us as rescuers to adapt, learn and apply new skills for our safety and the victims’ safety, some skills, those “time-honored rescue skills,“ will never change; that is, their uses and abilities, will never change. Yes, how we apply these “old technologies” may change and newer, safer equipment will allow these old skills to be applied safer, but the basic fundamentals don’t change. Physics is physics, period.

Here is the scenario. Suppose you have been called to a remote industrial rescue site where a maintenance worker is down in a large, concrete storm spillway/drain in an earthen dam, following a few days of light rainfall. The worker, sent to briefly inspect the spillway, must be raised out of this drain when he accidentally fell into it. He is not far down into this concrete spillway, but he is unable to extricate himself without assistance. Injuries are not too serious, but back or neck injury is a possibility, and he has a broken leg.

The solution: bring in the ladder truck, and we will raise him out of his predicament. Not a bad idea. But as soon as the truck starts out on the dam, it sinks axle deep in the soft soil. Now that end of the dam is blocked to any further access onto the dam. Other trucks will suffer the same fate.

While there are several technical rescue techniques available to effect this rescue safely, I must fall back to what I have said in many past articles: keep the rescue safe and simple! A seasoned rescuer will seek the simplest, safest effective method to perform this rescue.

What about a ladder slide, used in “reverse” to raise the victim in a stokes basket? But, due to the possibility of neck/spinal injury, we should look at another way. How about a “ladder as a derrick” raise, to raise the victim in the horizontal position? It is plain, simple, very effective, but old technology.

That is my very point in this article. MANY of the older methods of effective rescue are from the “old school.” Timber A-frames, timber tripods, timber gin poles, timber “jib arms,” ladder slides, leaning ladders, ladder A-frames, ladder “jib” arms, and ladder derricks — all are still as useful and effective today as 30 or more years ago. It’s just that fewer rescuers know how to rig them today. This type of rescue is called rescue rigging, and old school rescue rigging often gets “sidelined” in light of newer technology. Rescue rigging requires a working — sometimes advanced — knowledge of ropes, knots, rigging hardware and mechanical advantage systems.

Personally, I consider rescue rigging as a specialty area. But one thing is for certain: there will be times when mechanical equipment and machinery cannot access or be used at a rescue site for safety or logistical reasons. The rescue, however, remains to be done, and I contend that today’s rescuers should know how to do rescue rigging. In my years of training rescuers in rope rescue and rigging techniques, I have noted a tremendous increase in self-confidence in the rescuer who possesses the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) to use their minds and hands, take what ever tools are needed out of the “rescue toolbox” (KSAs and materials) and rig a safe, effective rescue. THAT is rescue.

In training rescuers in rescue rigging, the use of ladders and their tremendous versatility simply cannot be overstated. The photos in this article show several evolutions in the practical use of ladders, along with ropes, knots, pulleys, high-level gear, pickets and braking systems.

The ladder hinge is easily rigged to either lower or raise a victim horizontally. Traditionally, the ladder hinge is used more for lowers than raises. The ladder takes most of the weight as it “hinges” up or down, with the stokes basket tied loosely enough to allow “rotational hinging” about the foot of the stokes basket, as the ladder transitions from vertical to horizontal. It is a good way to quickly move large numbers of victims from point A to point B, to use with heavy victims, and it requires minimal hardware for set-up. Side guy lines, placed at a 70 degree angle from the building relative to the ladder, keep the ladder from shifting sideways during the evolution. A rescuer “walks the ladder down” during a lower or “walks the ladder up” during a raise.

Another very practical and useful evolution with a ladder is the “ladder-as-a-derrick.” It can be easily rigged to lift a victim from a myriad of circumstances, such as manholes, trenches, smaller sized grain bins, etc. It is also very useful in lifting weights off victims (within the NFPA rated load limits for ladders), removing victims from damaged buildings with unstable walls or veneer facing, and only requires the basic knots and hardware used in rescue rigging.

Rigging of the ladder-as-a-derrick (shown on page 56) uses a standard NFPA rated rescue ladder to create a derrick, much like that of a crane. It is placed such that the tip of the ladder is over the victim, with the lifting device (stokes basket, reeves sleeve, etc.) that can be raised — or lowered if so rigged — out of a trench, silo, manhole, etc. The sections of the ladder are lashed together for safety, with two side guy lines used to tension the ladder during the evolution, so as to keep it from tipping sideways, an aft guy line to control the “lean” angle of the ladder, and a pulley change-of-direction off the ladder to a hauling system, either mechanical or manual (rescuers).

When rigging a ladder derrick, the side and aft guy lines are constantly manned and monitored to assure constant tension is maintained to keep the ladder from falling sideways or from leaning too far forward over, or past the load being lifted. The rule of thumb for maximum lean of the ladder from vertical is: one-third of the length of the ladder from the base to the pulley sling, which is the third rung down from the top. So, if this measure is 16 feet, one-third x 16 is approximately five feet, thus the ladder does NOT lean from vertical more than five feet. If adequate anchors exist in the right locations and distances from the ladder, they may be substituted for pickets; otherwise picket systems work very well for this purpose.

These are only two examples of many to show how rigging can be of great benefit to rescuers. Rescue rigs are merely “tools in the rescue toolbox.” Ladder derricks can easily be rigged from truck tailboards as well. The set-up possibilities are as varied as your skill and experience levels allow. All the rigs have to do is be safe, simple and effective.

Thus, I maintain, that this stuff is true rescue — taking the situation at hand, accessing your skills and selecting the tools needed, and erecting a proper system, that accomplishes the task safely. But, all the rescue tools in your arsenal are useless without the knowledge, skills and experience to use them

Seek training in as many of these “old school” techniques as possible. You just never know when you’ll need them. 

Bob Twomey is the current chief and founder of the NC High Level Extraction Rescue Team, Inc. a helicopter SAR team based in Transylvania County. He can be reached at 828-884-7174 or [email protected].

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