The Training Officer and Using Scenarios in Rescue Training

In our training as rescuers we go through classes such as contained in the Technical Rescue standards used in North Carolina. As part of the certification in such classes, rescuers are required to pass “practical skills” components of the subject matter. This, of course, is a good thing; as the intention of this process is to show proficiency in the application of the class skills. If the skills are remembered for future applications in the “real” rescue world, then all is well; we learned, we tested, passed and became certified in a particular area of rescue.

But what happens if we rarely train on the learned skills, or if we rarely get the chance to use this knowledge in real rescues? It is a well-documented fact that knowledge and associated skills deteriorate over time if not refreshed, practiced or utilized. But how do we need to refresh this knowledge to keep it current, or “fresh in our minds” should the need arise to perform rescues?


Utilizing ground-based lowering system on tower rescue.

This past weekend, as a rope rescue instructor at the DuPont Rescue Experience — a wonderful technical search and rescue school held annually at the DuPont State Recreational Forest — I had the opportunity to set up training scenarios based upon actual rescues performed at DuPont State Forest. The rescuers participating in the classes we offered all possessed ropes and rigging and “mountain rescue” technical standards. Each scenario presented its own unique challenges, based upon the surroundings and physical features at each rescue site.

Rescuing victim off top of water tank.

It was rewarding to see that the class came up with various ways to perform the same rescues. All were safe; some methodologies were very simple, others were more complex but each way to do the rescues was effective. This showed me that the technical skills previously taught in a variety of classes over the last few years at the students’ home departments, were not only remembered, but were utilized very effectively as the problem scenarios were presented to them. To me, this is very rewarding and gratifying, as this is what rescue is all about! As I have preached for years in my articles, this “tools in the rescue toolbox” approach is the only REAL way to perform rescue. Knowledge, along with skills and the ability to apply them properly IS rescue.

So what should you as a training officer strive for in your rescue scenarios? You should try to challenge your team with problems with significant complexity so as to make them think HOW to apply their knowledge to affect a safe rescue. This means having possibly limited anchors in which to attach lowering systems, having a very limited work area in which to rig for a rescue. Perhaps the “mindset” of the top rescuers performing all the rigging for the rescue when 10 members may be on the ground, with ample anchors, who could do the rigging and raise or lower, but “tunnel vision” overlooks this obvious method of rescue. What I am saying here is this: just because rescuers ascend a tower or rock doesn’t mean they have to do all the work. If all the natural or artificial anchors you need are on the ground, and a sufficient number of rescuers (on the ground) can rig a mechanical advantage hauling system or a braking system to perform the rescue, why make the top team do all the work? Yet many times, the obvious is often overlooked.

Using a crane along with rescue standards to perform a rescue off a rock crusher.

A rescue scenario should, of course, be realistic, but it should contain variables that require the team to think of the best and easiest way to do the rescue, and to be able to select a method that will be safe and performed within the standards the rescuers learned in class. Over time and through experience, rescuers learn many ways to perform rescues. The training officer’s challenge is to create scenarios that force the team to select from all their various knowledge, skills and equipment, the easiest, safest and simplest method to perform any given rescue. The idea here is to avoid the “cookie cutter” mentality in applying rescue knowledge. It is to make them pull from many different skill sets the “specific skills” needed to perform the task presented to them. Make your team THINK! Make them analyze the situation, think about the gear they will need to do the rescue, consider what hazards are present and how to mitigate them both for their safety and that of the victim(s) — and then just do it.

I have seen, both in training and in real rescues, teams analyze a situation so hard that they miss the obvious and “over rig” a rescue to the point that the actual rescue took three or four times the amount of time really necessary to do the job. Part of this is tunnel vision, part is not thinking about how to keep the rescue as simple as possible, some is from a lack of experience — which will only come with time — and some is from thinking that the cookie cutter approach must be used. After all, this is how we trained in the classes we took, right?

Do you see where I am going with all this? Rescue is a technical art. It is a blend of knowledge, skills, abilities, equipment, training and experience. For the newer rescuer, and sometimes for the older, experienced rescuer, this can be a daunting task. Therefore, it is the Training Officer’s responsibility to present realistic training that will challenge your team yet allow them to use their learned skills in a common-sense approach. By this I mean teach rescuers all that you can, allow them to learn all the rescue skills that they can from as many schools as possible (over time), train often, have the team critique themselves constructively and gain their self-confidence. Then take pride in your folks when you see them do the job professionally. Then when you can tell your team members “well done” after their rescues, you can know you did your job right

Bob Twomey is the founder and past chief of the North Carolina High Level Extraction Rescue Team, Inc. a volunteer helicopter search and rescue support team based in Transylvania County, North Carolina. He is the senior helicopter pilot for Wolf Tree Aviation, LLC operating out of Transylvania Community Airport. He has served in numerous officer and training positions in the Transylvania County Rescue Squad. He has been active in SAR for 41 years. He can be reached at 828-884-7174 or

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