On the battleship with AERT
Author: Scott Pfeifer, Rescue Team Lead with Ronin Rescue, attended the AERT Battleship Rescue course in January of 2022.
Treacherous long days, late nights at the bar, plus non-stop rope & rescue skills bouncing around the mind, The AERT Rescue course on the USS North Carolina has it all. This week-long course taught me skills previously unknown to me, and how to really trust the rescue devices being used.
As a first-timer here on the level one course, I had no idea what to expect. Most normal courses are usually 8-hour days, with free time in the evening, and generous mornings to make sure you’re working at your full potential. Showing up to the first class session, the Ronin team and I had been on 2 planes (corresponding to 10 hours flight time) and had just finished a 2-hour drive from the airport to the venue. Upon arrival around 9pm, we walked into the classroom jetlagged and were in for a long night. By 3am we had gone through the initial meet and greet as well as the beginning section of the course where they introduced all the systems and skills that we would be doing the next day.
After a short sleep (more like a nap), we were up at the crack of dawn ready to start the actual training aspect. For those that have done a SPRAT rope access course, think of day 1 as the entire week of SPRAT training. This 14-hour day on the ship covers everything from the basics such as ascending rope, 3:1 MA, and even getting into packaging patients and descending on munters. By the time we got off the boat at 9pm, it was apparently time for beers, and the night ran on until early morning. Every day went like this; long days, and longer nights getting into discussions on different systems, sharing stories on jobs, etc. This is one of the elements of the course I really enjoyed - that even during our down time our brains were always being fed useful information.
The next day was a bit of a physical break, as our instructors had us break off into three different groups and tackle multiple different skills. Some were reviews from stuff I had done once or twice in Ronin, while other skills like the impalement and entrapment skill stations were brand new to me. The skill review was good to go over as they constantly showed ways of doing things that I had not known before. Leaving from the course, it’s great to have multiple ways of doing a certain skill for when plan A fails. The following day went like this as well. Different skills from the day prior, working through the random nooks in the battleship. Some review, and some new and another long night out, happily pushing my sanity to the limit.
That night we were also informed of the Gator Challenge, where we were split into 2 teams, and each would have to send someone off the side of the Battleship, lower them to the water and bring them back up, all without touching the guard railings on the side of the ship. The person each team would send down would have to fill up a cup of water and bring it back up without spilling, the team with the most water by the end would win bragging rights. Through the long night at the bar, My team and I spent hours planning what to do and how to rig and by the end, had a good idea of what to build and run with. We also decided that as I was the lightest there, I would be the guy going over. I really liked this challenge as it made us really think outside the box, and with a tripod not being built as it was supposed to, it really made us trust the tie-backs and strength of the legs. Conclusively, we lost the challenge, but if I do say so myself, we had one hell of a system. That was the most fun rigging work I have ever done by far.
After that comedic relief of a day, we were ready for the final challenge, a berserk confined space rescue for time. I would love to go into detail about the entirety of the rescue, but I think I’ll save that surprise for those who choose to take this course.
In conclusion to the tough week that is the AERT Tech Rescue course, I loved every second of it and learned tons. I broke boundaries, took my skills and equipment to the test, and I would recommend every Rescue Technician to do the same. If you do step up and challenge yourself with this course, be prepared, it isn’t for the faint-hearted.