There is a certain cachet in the technical rescue. When many people think of Search and Rescue, the first image in their minds is an orange-shirted attendant guiding a litter down a steep rock face, innumerable pulleys and pieces of cord dangling from his harness. In reality, technical missions form a distinct minority of all SAR calls. Here in Inyo County we classify about 10% of our annual rescues as technical, or about 5 missions a year. Yet we all remember these technical rescues when they happen because they tend to be the most difficult, complex, exhausting, and dangerous calls we run. Any mission involving a rope is a high-stakes incident requiring specialized skills and a a detailed knowledge of the forces and consequences involved. This May, in an effort to maintain a cadre of highly-trained technical rescuers on our team, we brought in elite instructors from Rigging for Rescue to present a week-long seminar in advanced rope rescue techniques.
The course combined lectures and fieldwork, covering principles of rope rescue physics and their practical applications. Eleven Inyo SAR members built anchors and assessed the forces applied to them, calculated the mechanical advantage of various pulley systems, and practiced ascending and descending with and without a litter and with different rigging configurations. Each day we worked in teams to solve the challenges of a particular scenario in a particular place, designing the most efficient, safe, and practical system given the constraints of terrain and patient condition (and sometimes weather!).
This kind of intensive learning was an incredible opportunity for everyone involved. By the end of the week, many once-daunting concepts had become routine and we all felt a vastly increased confidence in our knowledge, skill, and efficiency as a technical rescue team. Yet this confidence is as perishable as the memory of how to build a complex 5:1 pulley system, and we’ll require a great deal of supplemental training to maintain our skills. Luckily, our 2015 MRA reaccreditation will focus on technical rope rescue. Our goal is to spend the next year refining our systems and gear, drilling the concepts we’ve learned, and teaching them to those team members who were unable to attend the seminar. Look forward to lots of fun trainings this fall and winter as we practice pick-offs, vertical litter raises, guidelines, edge transitions, ascending a fixed line, and more. Check out some photos from Rigging for Rescue here.