This past weekend I successfully passed my Rope Rescue Team Member course in Squamish through the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).
As a member of Coquitlam Search & Rescue I am continually practising all the skills we first learn as Members in Training (MITs). These are those basic skills taught to us over the course of many months which forms the basis for the Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) course that is provided by the JIBC.
My skills have previously focussed more on tracking and boat operations as this is what I grew up doing. Formalized rope rescue was a new skill for me to develop and I could never understand the huge interest people had in it, until now.
Throughout the summer of 2013 the Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue group put on three full days (one Saturday each month) which focussed on different rope rescue scenarios. These sessions were excellent and were lead by some of the best instructors in the business. While each SAR group has it’s own resident rope rescue specialists who help train members and get them familiar with the basics, this was a whole different level. The mix of rope rescue experts from around the province and the members from almost every SAR group travelling in to learn new skills made it huge success. A big portion of my mandatory 20 hours of training was achieved in this setting. It was during these sessions that my interest really started to grow.
Rope Rescue Study Guide
I came back to Coquitlam with a new curiosity regarding rope rescue and wanted to learn more. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with a few people in Coquitlam SAR who spent a few hours to show me the finer points of stretcher rigging and ascending and descending.
I then took the Friday off before the test weekend to get a full day of practise in. I spent the day at the fire hall going over the theory and also practising everything on the list which included:
- mechanical advantage systems
- ascending and descending
- theory – forces, angles and strengths
- high angle and low angle rigging
I actually pulled my back out when doing the prusik ascending on Friday so was on pain killers the entire weekend but it never got worse which was lucky.
I still felt really nervous as I knew there was still a lot I didn’t know. As I drove up to Squamish I was reciting forces and angles to myself.
Stretcher Lashing – Feet
Stretcher Lashing – Mid Section
Stretcher Lashing – Head
I arrived in Squamish at the Aerial Rigging Center which is run by Perry Beckham. Perry is well known in Squamish. A bit of a local legend actually as he has done many of the first ascents on the Chief. Perry is also a wonderful person and excellent instructor. Every single instructor there was amazing so hard to single out any one of them but I think Perry brings the spirit of good teaching to his establishment which helps bring the best out of people. He is also known to assist the film and TV industry when ropes are required. He is likely famous for other stuff too that I am simply not aware of. 🙂
The Aerial Rigging Center is hard to find but is near the Squamish hospital. A great spot as you can walk from there straight up to some climbing areas. It’s also very close to food and hotels.
Stretcher Rigging – Slope
Friday night was the written test which most people seemed to fear more than the two days of simulations and skill stations. Fortunately, everyone passed the written test. If you read the book a few times and studied the summary questions you wouldn’t have a hard time passing. It is particularly important to understand mechanical advantages, forces and angles. I found it fair and not tricky at all.
Friday night I drove home from Squamish to Port Coquitlam while others spent a few hours at the Howe Sound Brew Pub which is well known for it’s amazing micro brew. This was a mistake. With the construction on Highway 1 it was a parking lot. What should have taken just over an hour took over two hours. I got home at midnight and had to get up again at 5:30am. Not fun. Saturday night I knew better and booked a room at the Best Western. Just over a hundred dollars and quite nice. Very quite and clean. All I needed.
Stretcher Rigging – Slope
Saturday was nerve racking for everyone. It was skills stations all day. Basically you were told to do something, the instructor would look at it then tell you to tear it down and build something else. Build a 3:1 on the load line, build a 3:1 attached, build a 9:1, build a multipoint, etc. No feedback and no indication if you did it right or not. Even when I was 100% confident on my ability I began to second guess myself due to the zero coaching that was enforced. By the end of the day I had a list of little things I could have done better which made me start to wonder if I would fail.
When Saturday finished we all went to the Shady Tree for dinner and some refreshments. Another good reason for me not to try and drive back to Coquitlam. As we ate and drank we began to reflect on the day. We were all worried about our performance but it was exciting. We had amazing sunny weather, world class training environment in Squamish and the best instructors money could buy. Mix in the fun and supportive SAR members and you have a bullet proof recipe for a good time.
After a good nights sleep I was ready for more adventure on Sunday. We did two scenarios. One was slope rescue and another was high angle. I immediately noticed that the focus here was much more on the Team Leaders (TLs) who were also being evaluated. The biggest challenge for the TLs was the initial review and decision making for the given scenario. Those first few minutes where key decisions were made was vital. If good decisions were made then everything seemed to flow well but if poor decisions were made that required changes then the operation always seemed to lag and not run smoothly. For these events I was fortunate enough to be a stretcher attendant (got to do the stretcher lashing), belay and load. I never did the edge person but have done that before a lot any ways.
At the end of the day Sunday we did a huge gear sort and waited for our chance to go into the room with the five instructors to hear our fate. As we waited our turn we told stories of the weekend. I felt like we had all completed our right of passage into the rope rescue world and no matter if we passed or failed had gained something really valuable.
The instructors were very good and gave everyone a very detailed review. Everything from the mistakes made on the written test to small details that could be improved on the field evaluation. Luckily I passed but it wasn’t without some excellent tips during my review. While the weekend was tough and the risk of failure was always in my mind I have to stress the professionalism of those who organized it and the fun I had throughout. Some people remarked that if they failed they wouldn’t try again but I think this was mostly just their thinking at the time due to being tired and hungry.
This was, by far, one of the best training and evaluations I have had in the SAR community and I highly encourage others to participate in this essential search and rescue training. It was a very rewarding experience I hope to repeat one day when I do my Rope Rescue Team Leader course.