I've been looking at getting into a rope rescue class at some point since last summer after the WFR class. Since all the classes by that point had either passed or were full, I decided on a 3 day confined space rescue class to start a foundation of rope rigging. I kept looking from time to time to see who was holding classes and where, and found the CMC Rope Rescue Technician 1&2 being held in Bend the first full week of June. I knew it would be a mix of low and high angle, geared both toward industrial and mountain rescue activities, and so I packed up my gear and headed to Bend.
Day one was a typical day of introductions and overview, then into regulations and standards for rescue personnel and equipment. After review the different gear we would be using, we went through knots for various rigging scenarios as well as an interesting presentation about rope and equipment testing and strength. We learned about how different conditions and mishaps might affect your gear, as well as dispelling a few myths in regards to rope strength and carabiner retiring. We then headed up the fire training tower. Various anchor systems had already been set up by one of the instructors, and we worked out way up the tower until finally reaching the top and looking at some of the more complex and adjustable anchors capable of holding well over what we could throw at them. Afterward, we were all given a chance to undo and re-rig all the various anchors to see how to set them up.
Day two was going to be all on the tower. First we went through patient packaging in various litter configurations before dividing into teams to set up a lifting/lowering rig on the tower. We began by setting up anchors on the top of the tower and on a point on the ground to hold haul and belay lines. On each anchor as well as the bottom of the wall we placed change of direction pulleys to route our rope in a direction that allowed for efficiency and space to rig various mechanical advantage systems. Then the fun began! We went through various mechanical advantage systems from simple to compound, as well as complex and how to calculate your mechanical advantage. It becomes extremely important to know what your system is rigged at because it will determine several factors: how much rope you need, how fast you can raise the load, and how often you need to reset the system. If you had a 15:1 system, every 15 feet you pull, you only raise the load a foot. With a heavy load, it might be a wise idea, but if you have a long haul, you might not have enough rope to rig the system. We assigned positions, loaded a patient in the litter, and rigged a litter tender to ride up with the patient. Everyone had a specific role, either rigging, belaying, leading or hauling, and we all rotated through each position.
Along with each haul, we had to convert the lifting system over to lowering which at first seemed intimidating, but wasn't as bad as it looked. Then it was on to piggyback systems, mechanical load controlling devices, and knot passing. Knot passing took some thinking and timing, but we all had a chance to get hauled up the wall solo as well as rig, belay and convert the system. Ended the day sore and tired, but feeling good about the rigging systems we were learning.
Day three was the "fun" day, mostly all on the tower doing various rappels. Started with about a two hour lecture on system safety factors, then we headed out to start rappelling. First off was simple rescue figure 8 device rappels with prusik self belay as well as a secondary belay line either using a CMC MPD or 540, both useful devices for rescue teams. We had both straight forward wall rappels as well as balcony/overhang rappels. Later we moved on to knot pass on rappel, which is not fun, but good to know. With one prusik on self belay, you rappel until you are at the knot. The trick is to slide the prusik up and lock it off, then re-set everything below the knot. Once its all set and locked off, you have to literally hang off the prusik and get it to slide down until all your weight is on the figure 8 again. I did the knot pass off the balcony side, so I was hanging in space while trying to re-set everything and then having to do pull-ups on the prusik for a few minutes to get it to slide. That was some serious work!
We kept working through techniques, brake bar rack, tactical rappel, and Petzl ID. I think I did at least 20 rappels, I lost track by afternoon. Since it was our day for rappelling, we just kept going over and over. The youngest in the class was also deathly afraid of heights, so it took him quite awhile to get over his fears and rappel. After lunch, he'd only done two rappels when the lead instructor saw him looking at the Petzl, so he grabbed me and told me to teach the youngster how to use it. I explained it to him several times when the lead instructor said to hook up the youngster and get him over the railing. Once I showed him how safe and fool proof the ID was, I was able to get him on rappel within a few minutes. As soon as he came back up the stairs, he wanted to go again. Now he was having fun! After his second rappel in the Petzl, I started to show him the brake bar rack. He didn't want to try it himself, so I said how about he watch me as I do a rappel with it and walk him through it. That was the last rappel for me, after I climbed back up the tower we started breaking everything down. After the day was over, it dawned on me that I'd climbed a five story building at least twenty times!
Thursday was the most intense day of the week, now we had to take everything we'd learned and put it all to use in various scenarios. We started at the top of the tower doing patient lowering. We set anchors for load and belay lines along with a pair of rappel lines. The way it would work would be that two people would be out on the rappel lines as edge guides helping lift the litter over the railing and stabilize it until the litter tender was in place. We worked through it a few times, rotating positions. I worked as belay, team leader, and edge guide before we switch over to a different side of the tower with a high change of direction. Our patient in that scenario was also the largest guy in out group, and we also had the added challenge of a lower roof line to clear even though we had the direction change. With one person on the ground hauling on a tag line, we still couldn't get the litter to clear. That lead into the next rigging system after we piggybacked a haul system and brought our patient back up to the top of the tower. We had a truck parked about 200' from the tower and we ran a guide line from the tower down to the vehicle.
On the end of the guide line, we placed an MPD to hold or release slack in the guide line along with a 5:1 haul system. A large pulley was placed on the guideline which was attached to the litter along with the haul and belay lines. Once the system was set, we took up all the tension from the guide line which raised the litter over the railing. At that point the litter tender attached to the system and climbed over the railing. As the litter was lowered on the haul line, we released or pulled tension on the guide line to move it around the lower roof line until it could be lowered all the way to the ground. It was a smooth and effective way of lowering a litter and tender safely while clearing obstacles. On the next go I played patient, and I can say without a doubt it was a very smooth ride and a controlled descent. The first half of the day was intense and very physical, but every scenario went well with solid teamwork.
After lunch we switched to the fourth floor and started working off of the balconies learning different rescue options such as the pick-of and vertical litter lower. The vertical lower was a little nerve racking because of the coordination required among the entire team. After the litter was loaded, the patient was lifted straight out to the railing foot first. The haul system was attached at the approximate middle of the litter so that as it was slid out on the railing, it was allowed to tip down on the foot end until it was lowered to the top edge of the rail, at which point the haul line harness was clipped in to the top edge to keep it vertical. Since no one was in any big hurry to play patient, I volunteered to go first. Mildly uncomfortable.....but still safe and effective. After everyone rotated through each role, we were essentially done with the day. Since we were ahead of the other group, the lead instructor gave us a rescue problem to rig. We had a patient and rescuer on the 3rd floor balcony, and we had to lower a litter to that floor, then lower the patient the rest of the way down. We rigged the system and had the patient down in about 10 minutes. It was a smooth operation, so we finished the day feeling confident in what we'd learned.
Friday was the "final exam", so to speak. We met out along the Deschutes River at the Meadow picnic area, and hauled all the gear up along some cliffs. We split into our teams, and packed our gear to the first problem. We were given a scenario, after which a team leader was designated and tasks delegated. It was a simple pick-off of a rappeler who ran out of rope before reaching the bottom. We rigged lowering and belay systems and lowered the rescuer down. We were a little disorganized setting up the rigging, but the rescue went off without a hitch. We debriefed and were given an evaluation of our system. Next we did a lower off of a cliff of a patient in the litter with a litter tender. Again, the largest guy in the group was the patient, so it took some effort to get everyone set and get him over the edge safely. Third scenario was similar, but a horizontal litter lift of a patient on the bottom of the cliff. I was team leader on this one, and asked the first scenario team leader to assist and help me rig the system. We set a high change of direction on a tree, and the cliff had a stepped approach so our litter tender could walk it down without having to lift anything over the edge. Once down, he packaged the patient and walked the litter back up. Everything went super smooth and the entire team was feeling pretty pumped up now that we were getting the hang of setting up rescues in the field. After a break for lunch, we did another loaded lower with a high change of direction, I was litter tender with only one edge guide, so it took some faith in my feet to lean over the edge of the cliff which helped lift the litter against the lowering line so I could walk it over the edge. We'd finished all the required scenarios in no time, so on the way out we rigged one more guide line system to bring our gear out to the road.
The class was over, we were all tired but feeling accomplished. It was time to say goodbyes and head home. I felt that the class was everything I'd expected and more. Not only did I feel confident in the techniques I'd learned, but also felt more confident in the ropes and equipment. You have to put faith in the gear and your team that everything is rigged correctly and secure. You also have to feel confident in yourself so that you make the right decisions and provide the best care you can for the person you are rescuing. Sometimes being the boss is more nerve wracking than being the rescuer hanging off the end of the rope.