Saturday, February 27, 2010

Special Forces in the Fire Service

I just attended my first fire-service relate course this weekend that has to do with technical rescue. This is all the cool stuff that firefighters might have to do at incidents not necessarily related to a fire. Not gonna lie, this stuff looks fun, especially the rope rescue training. Not everybody is excited at the thought of dangling from a rope supported by an improvised anchor, but as a hobbyist rock-climber, I already enjoy heights.

Rock climbing is a long shot from rope-rescue, though. I've clipped into my share of carabiners, but that's about it. This is a little more advanced. Think more along the lines of rigging up a system capable of supporting 2 rescuers plus a victim, lowering all the equipment necessary to package the injured party into a stokes basket dangling from the same set of equipment, and safely transitioning this whole party of people and hardware back to solid ground.

It's not an easy proposition, but it's certainly challenging and exciting. So far all we've really done its work on knots and anchors, but we'll be doing our share of rappelling practice and such before the class is done. I have no doubt that this will be one of my favorite experiences so far in the fire service.

What occurs to me is what I've experienced to a lesser degree on previous "rare" calls. You see, we don't exactly go flying off cliffs for rescues every other week. This is a really uncommon occurrence, and that makes training for it tougher. How much time should we be spending preparing for calls that almost never happen?

That's a tough question to answer because it's true that we spend most of our time on home medical calls. Our most widely applicable training, the most "bang for our buck", is what time we put in making our basic patient care better.

But we can't just ignore our uncommon scenarios. Vehicle extrications, for example, are uncommon; but they're horrendously dangerous if done wrong. Without proper knowledge, it would't be hard to end up with a car on top of you. We almost have to train harder for these things because we run into them so infrequently that we don't get that much practice.

How much more does that ring true for something like rope-rescues where we may not run into a serious one for a year or more at a time? A poorly constructed anchor or an improper knot could tip the balance of the incident away from heroic rescue and towards horrendous tragedy. Yet that's what could happen all too simply with a skill that we almost never have to use.

Think of something you maybe haven't done much of for a while. How about calculus? If you were woken up tonight at three in the morning and asked to find the derivative of a large polynomial, with someone's life riding on the line, how would you feel about your odds?

That's why I'm happy to do this kind of training as often as we can: because I don't want to doubt myself in the slightest when the time comes to use it.

It's also a great excuse to spend a weekend playing around with some pretty cool toys. :)

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