Reflections on the Annual GRIMP Day
In the mid 2000’s, a friend of mine told me to check out GRIMP Day on YouTube. I watched the few videos about this event that were posted at the time – and was instantly hooked. A day dedicated to competing with some of the best rescue teams from around the world. And in Europe to boot! Who would not want to attend this! From that point forward one of my tertiary goals was to field a team.
In 2013, we managed to make our dream of putting together a team at GRIMP a reality.
First, let me discuss what GRIMP Day is. GRIMP Day is a daylong technical rope rescue competition (although it was two days long in 2015 for the 10-year anniversary). It is held in Namur, Belgium, every year and is hosted by the Pompiers du Namur. Each team needs to provide a 5-person rescue team, a patient and an evaluator, all with their own gear (including team gear). Xavier (Namur FD and the organizer) and his staff get creative each year and produce 6 events – to be completed in the day – that even have veteran teams scratching their heads.
- Rescuing a 300kg fake horse out of the river
- Lead climbing under a bridge to pull a “patient” off of the trusses and skate block them back to shore
- Rescuing a “patient” from a slack line
- Sites with limited anchors, and for the most part – with the live patient we have to provide.
Each year at least 30 teams from around the world (France, Switzerland, the UK, Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil to name a few) attend and compete with each other. We would be, in 2013 (and still are after competing for three years), the only Canadian and North American team to ever compete.
Deciding to go to GRIMP started a journey that was almost as difficult as the day itself. All teams must be either emergency services or military. We had a team of 6 firefighters and one Paramedic. Of course, none of our departments would send us; as such we started searching for sponsors. All of us work for Ronin Safety and Rescue. Ronin was our first sponsor, providing us with rescue equipment. Arc Teryx, CMC and PMI also stepped up. We had clothing, gear, and accommodation for the days of the event. Each member would be responsible for his or her own flights, meals, ground transportation and hotel, except for the competition dates. Each member flew to Europe with close to 100 pounds of rescue gear and carried it to Belgium. And that was just part of the logistics. We needed to wire transfer money to Europe, prove our employment with the emergency services, find uniforms, and sort our gear. As we were also from 5 different departments, we had to all train together. Once a month, for the 6 months leading up to the competition, we trained.
We trained to the standards we knew here in North America and when we got to Europe, we got served.
The Euros rig for rescue quite differently then us….
That first year we practiced items such as Kootenay Highlines; Twin Tension Rope Lowers; items that most North American rescue teams would understand. Half of the members attending were SPRAT L1, and two-thirds had been through an advanced rescue course like Rigging for Rescue. We were also a very experienced team. All team members were skilled in more than one discipline; for instance, industrial rope rescue from the fire service and mountain rescue from the SAR or ACMG world. What we found, however, was during the competition we were too slow. Much of the European rescue skills are rope accessed based. The mindset we had grown up in – the fire service – was too rigid, too manpower intensive and just plain too gear-heavy to compete against the teams in Europe. We had a tendency to take too long to come up with and execute the plan, and we took too much time analyzing the scenario after. We also over-built our anchors and at times during the competition had difficulty finding anchors to rig to.
We were not discouraged however. We went back the next year and then the year following. We trained harder. We researched rigging techniques. We matured in our rigging and deployment styles. We streamlined our “orders” process. We took more training courses. All of the team is now SPRAT trained, most to SPRAT L2. All team members have been through more advanced training such as the PMI Terradaptor train the trainer program, Rigging for Rescue Update and Beyond, and Ronin Rescue’s Advanced Rescue Class. We looked at and purchased different gear. We now use no. 12.5mm ropes; we have put mechanical rope grabs back into the systems where we can safely replace prussics (we are rigging against the clock and prussics take time); our systems have more dual-purpose gear included and our rigging is much cleaner. For instance the team can rig a twin track, twin English reeve highland, in less than 30 minutes. Why a twin English reeve you ask? – as part of the competition the rescuer and patient must always be on two lines. Yes, with the prussics rigged correctly on a regular reeve system (Norwegian or English), you are always on twin lines. The problem is explaining this, through translation, to safety staff. Rigging twin lines in this case takes little more time and removes the argument factor from the equation. Remember each team must provide an evaluator. That evaluator goes and evaluates other teams. If the Evaluators are not happy with what they see, they will call a stop to your progress until they are. Imagine arguing with a Czechoslovakian evaluator about your system, watching your time disappear in the process. Oh wait, I don’t have to imagine….. Basically we learned to rig for the competition. In the process however we became more efficient, more experienced and more confident in clean and simple rigging, leading scenarios and rescue in general. And we went from 21st place, to 19th and to 5th place by 2015. The highest an English speaking team has ever placed.
Here is an example of one of the ten scenarios we completed in two days at GRIMP in 2015. The organizers brought in a slack line company to rig five slack lines across an old moat on the Citadel in Namur. These were about 100’ across and 80’ off the ground. They then hung a dummy from the middle of each slack line. When you were given the “go” you had to have one of your rescuers traverse the slack line while trailing two lines. The rescuer then had to anchor or redirect (if anchored elsewhere) the two lines on the slack line so you could rappel down and perform a pick off and get the “patient” to the ground – in under 6 minutes. Once on the ground your “patient” was swapped up for the live patient you brought. Your other team members had to rappel down the side of the moat, with all gear, including stretcher and meet the rescuer and the patient where they rappelled. Then you had to perform full medical interventions for the scenario and carry the stretchered patient out of the moat to the ambulance. You had safety staff, a foreign evaluator and a doctor grading your actions. The patient had to be in the ambulance with the entire team and all gear in attendance for the scenario to finish. All scenarios are for time (graded), and must be completed in 90 minutes. You then run back to control, with all gear, get your next scenario and evaluator and run to the next station (sometimes up to two kilometers away). All six scenarios in the day had to be completed in ten hours, including moving between stations and eating. If I didn’t already mention this – it is a great day!
I cannot state the benefits of this competition enough. Watching other teams, sharing ideas, reviewing new techniques and equipment as well as honing ones craft should be the goal of every rescuer worldwide. This happens at GRIMP. I can also walk in to close to 100 fire stations around the world and chat with men and women that I have competed against and come to respect and trust. GRIMP Day is the spirit of sharing the rescue doctrine to the next level. It has inspired ideas such as this website. I encourage more teams to attend. Another Canadian and an American team – take part in this competition. You will not be disappointed.