GRIMP Day: Year 5


Ronin Rescue at GRIMP 2017

Well this year was Ronin’s fifth year at GRIMP Day.  Really, it is hard to believe.

We have met so many great people in and out of the rescue community that we now call friends worldwide.  Preparing and competing in GRIMP keeps our staff current on updated rescue procedures and well trained in the execution of rescues.  It also provides them with new ideas about training scenarios for students.  I still get excited as I did year one to compete at GRIMP.  Bottom line up front – we still find it the top rope rescue event in the world!  With the number of scenarios, the time limits, the problem solving required (not just with ropes), we have yet to find a comparable competition.

Rigging for a rescue scenario

Our internal training has enabled us to get more and more points every year.  This year for rigging we only lost 7 points over the 10 events.  Four of those points were lost due to one incident (more on that below).  We are still losing points on speed however – or, should I term it, have no tbeen gaining the same number of points the European teams gain for speed.  This is one area we as North Americans need to step up our game.  It’s the old saying – a good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed later.  With half of the Ronin team members being first timers this year, I am extremely proud of the training (especially the standardization) and the team members.  To gain the same amount of points as the previous year’s team with half new staff speaks highly of the training staff and the caliber of the rescuers.

There are rumors in the company of a Ronin East and Ronin West Team next year – we shall see!

GRIMP Day 2017 was an Urban Edition this year.  30 teams registered and 29 competed at the event.  We had five scenarios per day in the city (both Jambes and Namur).  The highlight of the locations was certainly the St. Aubin Cathedral.  What a location to perform rope rescue!  We had one scenario (lower a patient, team rappels out, pull anchors) out of the bell tower and one scenario (rescue from ascent on SRT) in the sanctuary of the Cathedral itself.  The ten scenarios overall were challenging and required a mixed bag of rigging skills.

cathedral rescue scenario

 

As we have now had five years of using equipment at this event, it is a good time to go over the pros and cons of much of this gear.

 

Arc Teryx

Arc Teryx has been with us from year one and is still supporting us today.  We use Arc T’s packs and uniforms extensively during this event. For the packs, we have been using the Khard 45’s.  These packs have done an amazing service for our team.  As you can read in other posts by us we use this pack as a rope bag (100 meters of rope inside) with slings and other rigging stuffed in the outside and top pockets.  We rappel, run, climb, etc with this pack on.  We lower it down cliffs and man-made structures.  We have never had a pack come apart!  Based on our abuse that is worth noting.  We have torn two packs, however the material ensured the tear did not run (we used gorilla tape to mend it).  We have pulled the stitching out of one of the shoulder straps on one pack.  We have pulled off a zipper tab on another.  In 5 years of using the packs as carry on or checked luggage, then running around Europe with it, then using it for rescue both in Europe and Canada, that’s the extent of the damage.  Well done!

Ronin Rescue at GRIMP 2017

 

We did take one pack this last year and removed the waist belt (the new assault pack which has replaced the Khard has a removable waist belt so cutting off a waist belt is no longer required) and put two grommets in the bottom of it.  One grommet is for drainage (at the bottom of the pack), the other is to allow access to the other end of the rope (located at the front bottom of the pack). Not a common use we understand, however we are not a common user group.  We found the rope grommet hole was useful for grabbing both ends of the rope in order to rig lines or use the rope for fall/edge protection.  We were dry this year so didn’t get to use the drain much…

 

As for the clothing, it has for the most part also been great to use.  We have worn the Drac and now the Assault Pant AR in wolf for the competition.  My Dracs (cotton version) are still going strong after 5 years.  I prefer the fit of the Assault Pant more than the Drac, however wish they left the ankle pockets on the Assault Pant.  We find it useful for knives, energy gels (read Nutella), etc. when we are wearing a harness.  The other nice improvement is the knee pads.  The current foam pad in the knee of the Assault Pant, while lighter weight them the older pair, is all we needed for our use (you can add on the older style knee pad if needed).  Unless you are in some serious sharp and unforgiving terrain, these new knee pads are all you will need. We are on rock and structure all day and have had no problems with the new knee pads.

 

We have used different assault shirts over the years and the current version is the best yet.  At first, we called it the rescue tuxedo, however once we started wearing it, well it became like a pair of PJ’s.  We like the mandarin collar to limit the chaffing of our harnesses.  The foam elbow pads are also a nice touch and practical.  We used the Arc Word Heavy Weight T shirt as our competition T shirt this year.  Great quality shirt; they did not stretch out with use and surprisingly for me – I didn’t put any holes in it.

 

Our one question with Arc Teryx is why did they remove the soft-shell products from the LEAF line?  We could really use a soft shell in the rescue environment and many of our team are still using the LEAF Drac Jacket.  It is a great jacket for our use.  It fits big (it was likely designed to go over armour) but this is a plus for us – we can wear it over or under our harnesses.  It is slim in the arms, where we need it.

 

Wiivv

Wiivv insoles were a great product.  I used them last year in my Vans for GRIMP Day.  They were comfortable and my feet did not have arch cramps or the like while using them.  When I removed them about 6 months after GRIMP Day last year to inspect my gear they were in pieces.  Quite literally busted in multiple places.  I tried to get a hold of Wiivv but to no avail.  They market these as high performance athletic insoles and I destroyed them in 6 months.  I don’t know if that is a usual time frame or not. Just saying.

cracked insoles

 

Footwear – Vans and Arc Teryx

Arc Teryx – I wore a pair of Acrux FL Approach shoes this year while helocasting in Germany prior to GRIMP Day this year.  No issues with the fit of the shoes, they have been great in that aspect.  Comfortable, solid footwear; they are my go to approach shoes.  My issue is with trying to dry them out.  While you can get the insole out, the liner is not removable.  I tried using hair dryers (gotta love hotels), sunlight, leaving them on the dash of the car while driving the autobahn – to dry them out.  With not being able to remove the liner it took a few days to dry these shoes.  That time delay of course has assisted with producing quite the smell in them at this point.  The Enz River in Germany was not the cleanest to jump into and now I have a little bit of Germany in my shoes at home – growing….

Vans – I ordered a custom pair of orange and black “rescue” Vans Old Skool High Top Skate Shoes last year for the competition.  I wore them for the training and competition last year and the training and competition this year (I have also worn them in other locations I can get away with).  As crazy as it sounds, I love them. This year was an urban edition where we were mostly on man-made structures.  With the Vans I can feel the surface under my feet and identify trip hazards or other edges.  The shoes are “soft” on the old limestone walls of the castles and towers as well as metal grating providing me with a better feel on the surface of the structure while rappelling or rigging.  They are not good in mud however.  Once you get some mud in the tread, while in the mud – you don’t need a skateboard to slide down hill.

 

Our GRIMP team geared up

Plastic gear hooks

I mentioned above that we had lost 4 points on one scenario.  That scenario was a tower lower, down the caged ladder, with an attendant.  One of our attendant’s plastic Petzl gear hook (and granted they are not made for this) caught on the ladder cage and broke.  This led to 4 slings falling to the ground and cost us 4 points.  A big take away for us here is don’t cheap out.  The plastic hooks have their place, but buy metal gear hooks when working in industry.

 

PMI Rope

PMI has graciously provided us with two of the PMI Extreme Pro Unicore ropes for the competition each year.  This rope has become our go to rope at Ronin.  It is durable, strong, has a nice hand and unties easily when loaded.  We have used the rope at GRIMP for everything from highlines to 100 meter lowers.  We have used it in ID’s. MPD’s, Sparrows, D4’s, Totem’s and the odd Reverso / ATC Guide.  It has performed above expectations.  We now use it in the majority of our rescue rigging kits at Ronin.  With Ronin, it is primarily used for confined space rescue work and rope rescue courses.  It has been flawless in this regard.

Rope Rigging at GRIMP

 

CMC MPD and Petzl ID

I constantly go back and forth between the MPD and ID as a go to device on GRIMP Day.  Each team member carries both on GRIMP Day and they both get used.  We use the ID primarily for rappelling and the MPD primarily for lowering and highlines.  While the ID can be used in these circumstances (highlines and lowering), as a team we keep reaching for the MPD.  The MPD works better with larger loads then the ID however does take two people in order to operate the MPD in a TTRS (where you can shark fin the ID’s and use one operator).  Even with this we just seem to have a more positive control of the load on a long lower with the MPD.  For highlines, the MPD is unstoppable.  With the high efficiency pulley it allows one to tighten and loosen the track lines very easily.  As a team, we often do this with one rescuer for both track lines (one at a time).  The MPD does suck for rappelling with however – that is one area the ID has it beat.

 

 

Petzl Avao Bod Croll Fas Harness

With teams from around the world attending GRIMP Day you expect to see a multitude of harnesses – and you do.  The harness you see the most of however is the Avao.  That should say a lot right there.  Teams going to GRIMP are often sponsored and have the ability to use whatever they want.  The majority use the Avao.  While I personally liked the fit of the Navajo better and find that the buckles do slip on the Avao – it is still the best harness on the market that I have worn at this time.  It fits the best, has gear loops in the right places and with the built in croll it requires just that little bit less effort to ascend rope.

 

Cascade Litter

We hauled a Cascade Rescue Advance Series Model 200 Rescue Litter over to Europe on year two of GRIMP.  It currently lives in a friend’s garage in Belgium during the off season.  We have used it for 4 GRIMP Days, 16 days of hard practice prior to GRIMP Day and one week long confined space course we taught in Europe.  While this might not seem like much, just during GRIMP Day competitions this stretcher has been used in 40 rope rescue scenarios.  This stretcher is a winner.  We have abused it (for instance flipping it over and using it as a high point to keep our ropes out of the mud on a highline scenario where we did not have a high point), hauled gear in it, strapped it to cars and driven across Belgium and Germany, dragged it up walls, etc.  It is light weight, durable and still 100% functional and will be used next year.

 

GRIMP 2017 Packaged

 

Rock Exotica Carabiners and Omni Block Swivel Pulleys

Pulleys – This is another one of the proof is obtained by looking around items.  Teams worldwide show up and what are still the best pulleys out there – the Rock Exotica Omni Block Swivel Pulleys.  At GRIMP they have a concern with using a double pulley with both lines through it as a high point without backing it up (as it is viewed as non-redundant due to the pin) however even with that caveat, at least half the teams are still using them.  Many of our Rock pulleys have been with us since day one of GRIMP and they are still working like they were brand new.  Touch wood – we have yet to break a Rock Omni block swivel pulley at Ronin.

 

Carabiners – Our team primarily uses the Rock D auto lock or the Rock Pirate (both auto lock and Orca) for competition.  We have also moved towards the Rock D auto lock for all of our carabiners at Ronin (as they need to be replaced).  We use the Orca locks for rigging (when you need to pull towards you) and the Rock D’s for other applications (when you are also pulling towards you – see a trend here).  Our team likes the feel and weight of the carabiners and as a company we are not breaking them any faster than any other carabiners in our kits.  We do find that when we do “break” them it is often an issue with the auto lock gate.

 

Camp Helmets and Gloves

We wore the Camp Titan helmets this year.  While this is a rock climbing style helmet, we were amazed at the comfort.  Most rock climbing helmets I have worn hurt my head after a few hours.  We wore these for up to 12 hours per day with no complaints.  For context, we burn through helmets.  We have used a multitude and are very picky about how it sits on our head (center of gravity) and how it obstructs our work in technical rescue (edges sticking out) and how the chin strap rubs the chin.  This helmet is light weight, comfortable and strong.  Really a good product.  We had Camp gloves last year and while they are good, I still prefer my PMI Rope Tech Gloves gloves due to the dexterity.  Yes, my hand heats up while rappelling quicker with the PMI gloves, however I am one that choses dexterity first.

 

So that is the list.  While we have used other gear, these are the key items we use.  Stay tuned to see how our gear and teams fair at next year’s GRIMP Day.

Special Ops – Part Four – Speed vs Safety


special ops in the fire service

Overseas, rescue teams such as the Brigade des sapeurs-pompiers de Paris (BSPP) and Tokyo Fire Brigade, sacrifice a large degree of safety for speed; at least according to a North American (even Western European and Australian) perspective. So I ask, do they have it correct and we have it wrong? Are we too risk adverse in North America? Should we be dumping a line or an anchor? Is our gear “too safe”?

In the fire service we are taught we will risk very little for little gain and we will risk more for greater gain. Has this perspective caused the fire service to become too risk averse in the past 20 years? “Hit it from the yard” was not even in the fire service jargon 10 years ago. Now it is a tactic. In reality, the fire service is not the Military. The fire service is made up of dedicated, brave, reliable and well trained public employees. Is it fair to ask them too risk it all? In the military I signed that blank cheque that said payable to Canada with up to and including my life. The fire service never asked me for that cheque. That makes this a personal decision. Does the motto “So others may live” take a back seat to litigation, insurance payments and OHS regulations?

continue reading

Advancing Vertical Rescue in Australia: A Worldwide Fact Finding Report


In 2014 Scott Young received The David Balfour Churchill Fellowship to “advance fire fighter safety by studying overseas developments in the vertical rescue industry”

Essentially, he was given the funding and support to travel the world and study the best elements of vertical rescue around the globe. He spent time in the US, Belgium, Japan, UK and France learning from the best practitioners.

He was kind enough to provide to us his complete report which is available to download and read:

Advancing Vertical Rescue in Australia: PDF

continue reading

Special Ops – Part Three – Support required for a Fire Service Technical Rescue Team


rescue team support

I have a unique view on the support required to maintain a properly equipped and trained technical rescue team. I have spent 15 years as an instructor on a fire departments rescue team as well as co-own a private rescue company. I understand many of the financial, technical and personnel challenges that exist.

When a department decides to stand up a technical rescue team it needs to be a decision that includes the firefighters on the floor. They are the ones who will make or break the team. Just deciding to “try and do rescue” will inevitably lead to disaster. The staff that will make up the team have to be committed to put the time in it takes to create a high performance team. While special operations teams in the military still have a hierarchy, each member does have more autonomy, responsibility and the ability to influence the outcome of the task. If fire departments want truly special operation capable teams, then the members of that team require the same latitude.

continue reading

Special Ops – Part Two – Training required for a Fire Service Technical Rescue Team


rescue team training

Last week Mark introduced us to some of the issues involved in maintaining supposed “Special Ops” teams in the fire service. Today he continues the discussion with part 2 of this discussion focused on the training required for a fire service tech rescue team to maintain competency.

Firefighters train daily. Medical, auto-extrication, fire attack, driving, public education, hazardous materials, rescue, building construction, breathing apparatus and the list continues. Sometimes it appears to be the “jack of all trades, master of none” scenario. However, every training topic in the fire service links with another. Should training for technical rescue not be simple to complete? There would appear to be an obvious answer to this statement, but after many years evaluating rescue teams, training is the number one reason for the success or failure of a team.

continue reading

Special Ops – Part One – Certification and Competency


Special Ops

In the fire service specialty disciplines such as Technical Rescue and Hazardous Materials Teams are often lumped under the “Special Operations” category (in this article we will focus specifically on technical rescue).

For anyone that watches the news the term “Special Operations” immediately has them thinking about Military Special Forces (SF) or at the very least highly trained, specialized teams. The questions posed here are; is “Special Operations” the correct word for these teams in the fire service? Is the term too militarized? Are the teams trained well enough to be considered a “highly trained, specialized team”?

continue reading

Combat SAR vs TRAP


SAR vs TRAP

I am going to pre-qualify this article by saying that this information is based on my recollection of the subject matter and that I have been out of the active duty Marine Corps for over 20 years. Times have changed and perhaps some of the methodology has as well.

First off:
CSAR = Combat Search and Rescue
TRAP = Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel

What occurs when a pilot goes down behind enemy lines or in a hostile region?

Pilots are put through several different types of training to increase their survival odds should such an occurrence happen. Training like the SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) is designed to help them survive post crash or grounding of an aircraft, avoid being an easy capture, and give them tools to stay out of the reach of the enemy force looking for them.

How do we get them home?

What about sensitive information and equipment aboard the downed aircraft?

We’ve all heard about the infamous USAF Pararescuemen or “PJ’s”, the tactically elite SAR specialists of the military. Primarily these high-speed, low-drag (HSLD in “mil-speak”) guys are a major component in the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). Essentially they are search and rescue personnel with combat or tactical training. Primary mission is to locate, treat and extract assets that have come into dire circumstances. For the most part, that means downed aviators.

SAR vs TRAP

“The history of CSAR demonstrates the need for detailed planning and Dedicated efforts for combat rescues during war. The Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is very capable force that conducts tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel. Too often, commanders confuse CSAR with TRAP and task the MEU to conduct CSAR missions. The U.S. Marine Corps’ position on CSAR is that it does not conduct the search in CSAR. However, the limiting factor is the U. S. Marine Corps inadequate capability to conduct recovery. Joint doctrine is vague on assigning CSAR responsibilities contributes to the confusion between CSAR and TRAP. Other service component’s force structure for combat rescue, particularly during OOTW, adds to the JFC’s tasking dilemma. USSOCOM, with its specially equipped aircraft, is the force normally tasked with theater CSAR even though it detracts from their primary mission.” 1

The Marine Corps, in its insistence on being self contained and self reliant for most of it’s needs, has it’s own capabilities. The Marines have always been the United State’s “9-1-1 Force” and it’s Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) are strategically stationed aboard US Navy warships and bases around the world. Essentially, these units are an expeditionary quick-reaction force, used for anything from humanitarian aid to combat missions. An MEU will consist of Marine units from the Aviation (fixed and rotary aircraft) units, Ground (Light Armor, Infantry, Artillery, Heavy Armor) units and Logistics units for a troop strength of approx. 2300 Marines and commanded by a Colonel. In order for a MEU to become “Special Operations Capable” (MEUSOC), they must be proficient in several mission packages. These include:

  • 1 Amphibious Raids
  • 2 Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations
  • 3 Security Operations
  • 4 Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)
  • 5 Direct Action
  • 6 Humanitarian/Civic Assistance

 

The training package can take upwards of 18 months to complete prior to deployment.

Therefore, “the primary objective of the MEU(SOC)…is to provide the theater Commander In Chief’s (CINC’s) with an effective means of dealing with the uncertainties of future threats, providing a forward deployed unit that is inherently balanced, sustainable, flexible, responsive, expandable and credible.”

The US Marine Corps has three MEU’s which deploy from the West Coast (MCB Camp Pendleton), three from the East Coast (MCB Camp Lejeune, NC) and one based in Okinawa, Japan (MCB Camp Smedley D Butler)

Although ParaRescue missions are part of a larger, planned rescue operation (CSAR), TRAP missions are spur of the moment and due to the strategic location of a MEU as part of a Battle group, probably more highly reported. They are typically teams of 20-30 Marines and utilize rotary aircraft for the mission.

Two such missions that pop into mind are the rescue of US Air Force Major Kenneth Harney and Capt. Tyler Stark who ejected out of their F-15E over Lybia in March of 2011.

The other one that made headlines was USAF fighter pilot Scott O’Grady who’s F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in June of 1995 and provided the film “Behind Enemy Lines” with its plot.

If there are any readers out there who have current knowledge of USMC TRAP missions and USAF PJ CSAR missions and wish to add to this, please do not hesitate to contact us through the Rescue Report.

1The JFC’s Dilemma: The USMC TRAP mission verses the Combat SAR mission” by Major Matthew D. Redfern, United States Marine Corps

Report on the Ch’iao Rescue Competition


ch'iao rescue competition

During last year’s GRIMP Day competition I met Jay Chen who had come to Belgium to visit us. He is the owner of a company called AIRAS, providing training for rope access workers and rescue teams in Asia.

Jay had already organized one rescue challenge in Taiwan called Ch’iao (The bridge ). He asked me to join him and his team for the second edition held this month.

This event takes place in the middle of Taiwan, in the mountains. The concept is to use bridges to provide a sense of elevation.

The Ch’iao event is held across two days.

The first day is an 100 m ascend race competition . You have to climb (attached with your buddy ) and pass knots (one on each work rope ). This race is an open race to all ropes access specialists (tree climbers, rope access workers, firefighters and rescue personnel).

I participated in this race along with my partner Damien of Petzl Asia. It was physical! Your equipment has to be prepared and you have to have excellent coordination with your teammate. It was a very good experience ! ! !

The second day was devoted to the rescue. 4 tests were organized.

2015-chiao-2

Test 1 : The same location as the 100 m ascend competition. The teams had to rescue a patient from the bottom of the valley back up to the bridge.

Test 2 : One patient was hanging on the bridge cables. The mission was to access the victim and then have him descend to a secure area.

Test 3 : One patient is laying in the riverbed. Bring him back up to the bridge.

Test 4 : An intervention for a patient hanging on a highline.

In my opinion, Jay and his team have done a wonderful job! This was a fantastic event with excellent organization. 11 teams took part in Ch’iao (10 from Taiwan and 1 from Hong Kong ).

Participants were very interested in engaging other teams to exchange techniques and experience.

Ch’iao has a very nice future and I hope to see teams coming from all over the world for the next edition.

ch'iao rescue competition

 

Reflections on the Annual GRIMP Day


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.

continue reading

The Yin and Yang of Rescue


Yin Yang of rescue

I started playing on ropes a long time ago in the Armed Forces. When I released from the Army and joined the Fire Service, my rope knowledge was increased. This occurred due to experiences and training as I went from Team Member to Instructor on our Technical Rescue Team.

This was, in our area, a relatively new field of operations. The first official rope rescue tasking for our department occurred in 1994 (some departments had been providing rope rescue services, in some manner prior to this). Just as there was a learning curve coming from the military rope systems to the fire service rope systems, there would be another learning curve inside the Fire Service as the Fire Services in British Columbia (BC) grew into this new tasking.

In 2003 our department started into confined space rescue. Once again the learning curve from rope rescue to confined space rescue was sharp.

To provide some background and context, in the early 1990’s in BC, the Technical High Angle Rope Rescue Program (THARRP) came into effect. This program took certain industry classifications and assessed them a slightly higher assessment on their payroll. This was done through their workers compensation premiums. This “extra money” was then given to the Fire Service, through an application process, in order to fund rope rescue. However, this was for high angle only and not confined space rescue. Then in 1998 our Provincial Regulations OHS/HSE regulations (WorkSafe BC – WSBC) changed, and having the capability to rescue a worker from a confined space became a written requirement. As such, the private rescue industry began to fill the void between THARRP and what WSBC required for confined space rescue.

In the early 2000’s, I began working private rescue standby. We were almost exclusively full time emergency service personal working on our days off. The statement, “you don’t know what you don’t know”, could sum up these early days of industrial rescue. Like the learning curves from the Military to the Fire Service and within the Fire Service, there was a learning curve in private rescue. While we had some very competent rescuers on sites, these rescuers were not well versed in the requirements, safety procedures, policies or culture on industrial and construction sites. As such, one could imply that we caused as many issues as we solved.

Prior to telling the remainder of this story please keep this in mind: I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here. The company I was employed by when the first portion of the story takes place no longer exists.

I am using these stories to outline the progress private rescue has made over the years and as a learning tool for organizations hiring private rescue providers.

My first rescue standby job exemplifies this juxsposition. I arrived on site at a Waste Water Treatment Plant, received a 30-minute site indoc, and was sent out as a hole watch and rescue team member. While I was qualified to both the rope rescue and confined space rescue technician level (terminology of the day), I had limited gas monitor or industrial hole watch training. Yes, as part of the training I had taken for my rescue certificates we had spent an hour on gas monitors, and we had to act as an edge attendant (hole watch) for a rescue. However “monitoring” a rescue drill and monitoring a live hole where workers are entering, are two different animals. I did not see (and did not know to ask for) any hazard assessment, entry procedures, rescue procedures, WHIMIS, emergency contact info, etc. I had my Fire Service FMR3 ticket, however no OFA ticket as required by WSBC. I was given an air horn and told to use it if there was an emergency. We were solid rescuers, however we knew very little about the regulations required for work on a working site.

As I was sitting down to read the newspaper at hole 1, events were unfolding in hole 2 that would have me conducting my first private rescue within 20 minutes of being on my first site.

In hole 2 the worker was on scaffolding sandblasting the inside of a waste digester. The worker’s scaffold guardrails were interfering, so the worker removed them. Shortly thereafter, with vision reduced by PPE (hood) and the sandblasting, the worker walked off of the scaffold and fell 35 feet to the bottom of the space. I was pulled from my paper by the other rescuer sounding the air horn. I informed the workers in the space I was watching to evacuate and ran to the other hole.

We had a three-person team on site that day. Rescuer 1 and I immediately accessed the patient via 35 foot unguarded ladder. Rigger 1 (who was also the TL) started rigging the rescue lines outside the space. Once on the floor of the space, Rescuer 1 and I started our priority action approach; packaging the patient onto a spine board and then into a basket stretcher (yes basket stretcher, not a SKED or Spec Pak).

The rescue itself went very well. Working in a dark, wet, dirty space on a live rescue was exhilarating. This was in the days of diamond lashing patients onto the spine board and into the basket stretcher with tubular webbing. With poor visibility and digester dirt covering all things, good communications were required. Even though Rescue 1 and I were from two different fire departments, we moved through our actions and drills as a well-oiled machine. This does speak to the level and type of training the fire departments rescue teams were receiving. We had the patient packaged, 5:1 mechanical advantage and safety line rigged, and patient removed from the space and brought down to the sidewalk prior to the arrival of the local full time emergency services (under 10 minutes). Rescuer 1 and I however were covered in digester dirt (human waste) and were wearing no PPE outside of harness, rescue helmet, rope gloves, boots and hi-vis vest. The site was shut down for the day. While the rescue went well, I would suggest it should have never occurred.

Fast forward 12 or so years. I am still a firefighter and still working private rescue standbys. Under the new company we strive to be a learning organization and have reviewed incidents such as the above. From these reviews we have created SOP’s and requirements for our staff. Prior to going onto a site, our staff are required to take industrial fall protection, confined space, gas monitoring as well as WHIMIS and Lock Out/Isolation training. If they do not have a regulatory recognized first aid ticket they are sent through a recognized first aid course. They are given updated training on rescue techniques, as well as advanced rigging training. It takes on average a week to take a rescue-qualified firefighter and put them on an industrial site as a rescue team member. Staff on site are also required to perform onsite training and orientate themselves with all gear and locations they may rescue from. This all paid off on a site we were on last spring.

We were working on a heavy industrial site, augmenting a client’s industrial Fire Brigade. This was a great opportunity for our staff (primarily city firefighters) and the client’s staff (industrial firefighters) to have a two-way exchange of knowledge. As part of our duties our staff walked the site every few hours. They found all the confined spaces that were being entered that shift. They pre-planned the spaces. They checked all gear. They trained with the client’s staff in order to enhance interoperability.

Then the radio call came in; a worker was in full arrest at the 170-foot level of a tower structure on site.

Staff jumped into the medic truck and responded emergency a short distance. They reached the base of the tower (which was through a maze of scaffolding and piping), grabbed the gear and started the run up 170 stairs. They reached the patient and started first aid protocols. As this was occurring the team also had the crane operator rig and lift the dedicated emergency platform (DEP) to their level. This is pre-planning at its best. Some areas of the tower require technical rope rescue and the team brought gear for that scenario, if required. Once they arrived they knew they could get the DEP close to their location, reducing the time required to get the patient to further medical assistance. The patient was secured into the DEP and lowered with the rescuers to the ground. Taglines were used to ensure the lower went smoothly. The handover to local emergency health services was completed. The worker lived.

The comparison of the two rescues is not to lay blame or dole out accolades. It is to identify the learning curves that have had to occur in the private rescue industry. It is to outline what your private rescue provider should be doing on your site.

These rescuers not only need to be rescue experts, however, they also need to have a good working knowledge of local safety regulations and their client’s sites. They need to conduct pre-planning, onsite training and site familiarization. They need to perform these duties in order to maximize the efficiency of a rescue should it occur.

I can attest that workers lives depend on it.

1 2