IMP 2 at Campus Vesta in Belgium.
Three Ronin members were fortunate enough to attend the IMP 2 training program at Campus Vesta (Fire Academy for the Flemish and Capital District of the country) in Belgium. We were lucky to have members of RESQ Netherlands and Rope Geeks on the program with us. This is a 3 week program (120 hours), usually run over a month. Due to travel and costs associated with temporarily living in Europe, this program was conducted over three weeks straight.
As North Americans who have been through programs such as the NFPA Rope Rescue Program, the BC Technical High Angle Rope Rescue Program and SPRAT, this course had some similarities and some major differences. We used ropes, although at times only 1. We used devices, however asked for this course to be run old school; think Petzl D04 (Simple) and D09 (Stop) with change overs (we can play with Clutches, Maestros and MPD’s here). We used highlines, however PRM’s. And we went to locations such as pre-WW1 forts, diving quarries, 80m bridges and other locations we would do not have in North America and could not have accessed there without being on the program.
Some background on the GRIMP system, where the IMP 2 and 3 come from. It originated in France (currently CNF GRIMP in Florac) from the Cave Rescue world. The GRIMP System was first looked at in Aywaille, Belgium in 1997 by Maurice Levaux. Maurice became the first Belgian (and first foreigner) to attend IMP 3 at the French GRIMP school in 2000. This allowed Belgium to start offering the program to Firefighters in 2000 as only IMP3’s can teach the program. I have referred to IMP 2 and IMP 3 now a few times in this blog. IMP 2 is the “team Member” Course. It is 120 hours long. IMP 3 is the “Team Leader” Course. It is an additional 80 hours. There is one other “level” and that is CT (Controller Technique). This is the IMP3 nominated in each region as the “program coordinator” for that fire region. These CT’s meet periodically (remember Belgium is a small country in North American standards) and ensure interoperability between Fire Zones.
So IMP 2. Week one of this program is rescue access and individual rescue skills. The GRIMP system uses SRT (single rope technique) for rescuers to access patients. There are a number of rules around this and a hazard/risk analysis needs to occur prior to operating. For instance a tight rope cannot go over an edge (use of fractions – little rebelays are incorporated). The biggest take away for my North American brain was the question “why would it fail”? This is a very different initial though process then the North American practice of “what can fail”? At the conclusion of week one the students have to complete a rope access course (single rope) and do a companion rescue on single rope (the old croll to croll bump) in under 5 minutes. Students also need to complete a written test and perform the installation of artificial anchors (bolt hangers) as a main anchor and then rappel over an edge simulating access to a patient. Over the edge they must install at least 3 fractions (re-anchors) on artificial anchors they have to install while in the vertical environment. Then climb the rope and clean it all. Passing all these tests is a requirement to continue on in the program to weeks 2 and 3.
Weeks 2 and 3 are rescue weeks. Raises, lowers, change overs, PRM’s, skateblocks, tripod rigging, anchoring, pick offs (from rope, balconies, etc), confined locations, etc. You get the idea. When a patient is on the line, the system does require two ropes, similar to North American redundancy. These are true 10 hour days of pure rescue. At the end of the two weeks, guess what? More tests. You need to complete another written exam and then a practical. There are 6 practical exams and you simply pick one out of a hat. The practical exams are all encompassing and timed. Without spilling the beans, think of setting up and operating complete systems on your own. The GRIMP system is also much more para-military than ours. Following the TL’s instructions, gear inventory daily, colour of helmets and patches, etc. It is very easy to know your place in the system.
A few key take always from my North American eyes; Assessing the hazard, the main courant (hand line) the corde a linge (washing line), the PRM (Poulie de renvoi mobile – mind my French here), artificial anchors and the testing. Oh and pontoire (and once again don’t judge my French here)
Assessing the hazard. As mentioned above, they (we, us) go into the situation with an eye on the task and the thoughts of simplicity. When I used the word redundant there, I was asked by one instructor what it meant. It's not that they don’t use redundancy, they just use it where needed, not by rote. They also use the SOIEC system (similar to NATO SMEAC or SMESC) and pictograms to issue orders (tasks). It gets the message across to all members quickly and simply.
Main Courant – this is an edge pro line installed by a team member that the edge attendants, TL, etc can clip into. It is a dynamic rope and is tied in a certain fashion to allow for multiple attachments and the ability to use it comfortably at the edge.
Corde a linge – The washing line. Basically a high directional anchor like a tension line using two ropes that you can release as the load passes by the re-direct. Wicked simple.
PRM – Now there are certainly many conversations we can have about the PRM. The thought process in its rigging however and the ideas of opposition line, neutralization and where specific devices go (devices better for hauling on and devices better for “neutralizing”) are great learning concepts.
Artificial anchors – Part of the course is the knowledge of, installation of and removal of artificial anchors such as bolt hangers. Great idea allowing one to create anchors almost anywhere.
Testing – Why are we not testing more in North American Fire? And with consequences! You can actually fail over there… The passing rate on the course is like 80%....
Pontoire – and my spelling may be off here. Roughly defined as the distance between the master attachment point and the rail of the stretcher. We don’t have a word in English for this. We would say make the rigging smaller. What rigging? The bridal rigging! The bridal rigging or the bridal height? You get the idea. There its just smaller pontoire…..
It was great to spend almost a month in another country, at their fire academy, learning a new system of rope rescue. We were all challenged, exhausted at the end of every day and proud to be the only 3 Canadians to complete the Belgian GRIMP Program. It is kinda wild – we have issued wings that have a number on the back. That number is recorded in Belgium and actually makes it legal for us to participate in a rope rescue in that country.