Today I attended the second Regional Rope Rescue Training Workshops at Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. I missed the first workshop but heard it was excellent so I made sure to get organized and cancel my previous plans for today so I could attend this session.
I wasn’t disappointed. The training, location and instructors were world class.
These training sessions have been organized for Search and Rescue groups located in the Sea to Sky Corridor and the Lower Mainland. Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue based in Abbotsford, BC is the host SAR Team for these regional training workshops. Support from the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) local representatives Jack Bryceland and Sandro Frei as well as instructional assistance was provided by some of the Rope Rescue Instructors utilized regularly by Emergency Management BC and the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) to teach rope rescue courses across the Province.
The goal of this learning experience was to provide an open and collaborative atmosphere that is informative and hands on for everyone. The Team Leaders and Facilitators really made this happen. Great learning environment as everyone helped each other and the instructors were very supportive.
I arrived at the Town Centre Fire Hall and one of our team members was already there packing the truck with equipment. He had gotten up at some terrible hour just to ensure we had what we needed. He wasn’t going with us but instead wanted to support us in our trip. In my mind this was yet another example of the what makes a SAR volunteer great. The people in SAR never cease to amaze me with their dedication, sincerity and integrity.
We packed the following rope rescue equipment to be used for the various training scenarios and skills drills stations:
- 2 – 60 meter 11 mm ropes for ascending/descending practice
- 2 – 15-30 meter 11 mm ropes for edge/belay/safety
- 1 – 6 bar brake racks for ascending / descending stations
- 2 – rigging plates with minimum 4 holes
- 6 – 10 meter lengths of tubular 25 mm webbing
- 8 – 5 meter lengths of tubular 25 mm webbing
- 8 – 3.5 to 4 meter lengths of 25 mm tubular webbing
We jumped in the truck and drove out to Abbotsford. I was a bit worried we would be late but we arrived just in time for the initial briefing. I instantly recognized members from Mission SAR, Central Fraser Valley SAR, Lions Bary SAR, North Shore SAR and Ridge Meadows SAR. Many of the people I had met at previous courses and/or mutual aid calls.
The training centre was first class. Once we completed the safety and planning review which was lead by Tim Lee of CFV SAR, we all went outside to see some new gear and see some advanced techniques.
Griff and Ryan from Carleton Rescue Equipment Ltd. attended to showcase some specialized rope rescue equipment including the MPD / 540 Belay device, Scarab, sewn prusiks and other gear. A Rope Rescue Team Leader showed us some techniques and tips as part of the Rope Rescue Equipment and Advanced Techniques Demonstration. John Dennis from Dynamic Rescue Systems will be attended as well and brought along some of his Technical Rescue Team members. John is a member of TEAM 1 (Federal/Provincial resource for Heavy Urban Search And Rescue) and has an extensive background in Technical Rope Rescue and Confined Space Rescue gained from his involvement with the City of Vancouver Technical Rescue program.
After the equipment demo, Bob Manson demonstrated ascending and descending techniques which including an updated way to use the Purcell prussic system which involves an additional loop to attachment to the waist. This allows better balance and less fatigue is utilized correctly.
After reviewing the new gear we coordinated travel to Sumas Mountain for training. Of course I got lost on the way there. Always embarrassing to ask for directions while driving the Search & Rescue vehicle.
We divided into two teams on each side of a large ravine. We were working in a variety of environments that had both with low and steep slopes, some vertical portions and a variety of vegetative cover and soil conditions. Safety was always a concern and a designated Safety Officer was always monitoring the days activities.
My team began practising ascending and descending. Even though most of us had our ascending gear already made up to length, it took more time than we expected as the switch over to prussics at the bottom took time for all of us. The route up had a little straight vertical but was mostly a collection of loose rock and dirt at about 65 degrees. I ended up getting a lot of dirt on the rope which made the prussics stick and slowed me down. I did three wrap prussics as I find with the cord I use the two wraps don’t catch as well.
With a quick working lunch (this means cram a power bar into your mouth as you walk to the next station) we switched over to the other side of the gully to do do a scenario.
Dave from Lions Bay SAR eats a sandwich while rocking a pink prussic.
Dave enjoys me taking his picture.
Once there the Team Lead instructed me to be the edge person which was really exciting. The edge person is responsible for ensuring communications travels back and forth from the attendant to the team lead. The edge person is the eyes and ears for the team lead. It was a great experience for me and really emphasized the need to have all your commands down. Saying “2 feet” does not help the team lead as much as “2 feet up slow.”
We threw a dummy over the edge and let it crash down the bank. Our job now was to rescue this subject. We setup a 3 to 1 haul system. I was on the edge and assisted the attendant go down with the stretcher. The haul up was tricky with all the huckleberry bushes and loose rock and dirt falling down the hill.
The scenario was even more fun as we were put under pressure to perform “with purpose.” The instruction was to do it properly first but then to consider how fast you were working. Don’t spend time talking when you could be working. This was a good challenge and kept us moving. The instructor periodically called out the time and we managed to get it done under an hour. With the time left over we did a pick off with a subject on the cliff which was fun as well.
After all the activities were finished we got a live demo of the rope gun. Carleton Rescue demo’d this line-shooting device. This was the second attempt as the first one didn’t quite work as planned. During the first try the line was on a spool which bird nested right away. A loose coil on the ground worked. The unit also comes with a rope chamber which is likely a good idea. The gun is .22 rim fire calibre and as you can see in the video makes a loud noise. If you plan to use it, you should likely notify the local police as it sounds very similar to a real firearm.
We did a debrief and everyone talked about what worked and what didn’t. Everyone was smiling and very satisfied. It was a great day of instruction.I left Abbotsford very happy I had attended and thinking about the next visit I would make in September.
Awesome job CFV SAR!
Photo credit to Mechthild Kellas-Dicks