This is the last in a three part series on rope rescue. The first two segments covered some basic rope rescue curriculum as well as the training philosophies behind it. This segment will cover the FDNY advanced rope rescue curriculum along with some specialized rope courses and training.
In the introduction to the advanced course several items are emphasized. First the principle of simplicity is highlighted. It is stressed to use the simplest techniques that will be effective. There is often a time in the students training when they have a tendency to utilize complex techniques mostly because they can. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The next item is that while many of the techniques that are taught in this course are less likely to be utilized than those in the basic course, the scenarios addressed are still a possibility and people are killed every day from unlikely events. It is also pointed out that even if these scenarios are never encountered in the real world they are good problem solving exercises for the advanced student.
Some time ago I attended a cave rescue course ran by the National Cave Rescue Commission. During this course the instructors demonstrated highlines. The instructor explained that while these techniques were good to know, one could probably work in the rescue field for fifteen years and never use them. Near the end of the course, we were called to a real rescue and those instructors had to build three separate highlines to extricate the victim. Never say never, particularly in emergency response.
The first day of this course covers miscellaneous advanced techniques, problem solving and trouble shooting. Although this is an advanced course, review some basic concepts from experience that are sometimes neglected in real world operations. Important points or areas identified as problematic are also put on the written exam. This reinforces the point by making the student identify it on the exam. If the student answers incorrectly, they write the correct answer on the review. In regards to exams, these are also used as a personal evaluation of teaching. If too many students get a question wrong, the fault does not lie with the students.
The advanced techniques taught include: advanced litter rigging, double line techniques, multiple attendants, advanced edge negotiation utilizing double bridles (also known as: pick and pivot, pike and pivot and second haul line), and knot passing.
One of the main reasons to utilize advanced litter rigging, double lines and multiple attendants, is to deal with various terrain problems. In this case the rigging of double lines and attendants can help negotiate the problematic terrain. The other reason for using these techniques is to assist with patient extrication and care. This is accomplished by enabling the rescue baskets attitude to be easily adjusted and allowing the attendant/s greater mobility to extricate the patient and provide care.
Another skill that is taught is knot passing. This is conducted through hauling systems, lowering systems, belay systems and various high points and directional pulleys. While this technique is generally used to tie ropes together to achieve greater length, we also use it to teach other concepts. In a real world situation, we can solve many of the situations where knot passing would be used through the use of longer ropes (we carry up to 600’ lengths) and knot passing pulleys. Knot passing is useful in teaching trouble shooting. When a person passes a knot, he basically holds a load while changing out components of the system. This technique can be used to change out any damaged or jammed piece of equipment of even an inadequate anchor point. As students pass the knot through various systems and directional pulleys, they are disassembling and reassembling the system under load.
Day two of the course is all highlines. These are very specialized systems requiring a large outlay of equipment and time to construct. While there are many drawbacks to the highline, some of the capabilities that they possess cannot be duplicated with other rope systems. In addition to their unique capabilities they are also an excellent teaching tool to apply all basic skills at an advanced level in order to construct one. In teaching this relatively complex system it is important to have the students perform multiple repetitions in order to obtain retention. To achieve the desired repetitions without the side effect of boredom every repetition has different elements. The teams building the system switch sides so they are building the opposite end of the system. Next, switch locations so the same system must be built overcoming different obstacle. Finally, build the same systems but with lowering systems incorporated (five line systems) so that the load can be raised or lowered anywhere along the length of the system.
Day three consists of other systems that can provide horizontal movement to rope systems. These systems cannot accomplish what a highline can but they are much less time and equipment intensive. All of these systems are constructed combining standard raising and lowering systems that the students already know. These systems are combined together, either attaching them directly or with a pulley. Utilizing this method, turn simple systems into an advanced system with the addition of one carabiner (and possibly a pulley). The systems we teach are: movable directional, offsets, skate blocks and drifting a load. These systems are known by many names often being classified as offset variations. The choice of which of these techniques to use is based on the terrain to be negotiated and anchor availability. As an example, an offset is useful with one high anchor point and one low anchor point; as opposed to a movable directional which is useful moving a load that is between two high anchor points. I have worked on these techniques with some industrial teams that needed a solution to a particular scenario and used them at the World Trade Center collapse where much of the topography resembled a wilderness environment (as collapses can).
The final exercise conducted on day three is a yellow brick road. This is conducted in our field house which is a simulated indoors city street. The whole class works together and they are given maps diagraming where the victim is to be moved and what techniques are to be utilized. The victim is moved from ground to roof from one side of the street to the other being transferred from system to system. In addition to being a final review of all of the techniques learned on days two and three, it is a great teamwork drill. While the victim is moved with one system, the next system is being built and the previous is broken down to be utilized again until the entire scenario is complete and all of the systems are broken down and inventoried.
Day four has become somewhat of an experimental day. This day originally was lead climbing course, which taught members how to climb utilizing some of the same equipment used by rock climbers. We have access to numerous climbing areas including the truss work on the underside of a bridge that goes over a portion of our academy. This course has now developed into a separate course of its own. Now this day consists of a climbing review and some other rope access techniques and equipment that we are working on. During the last class we added some training on specific gear that is going to be issued to our units. This is a good day for us to introduce new techniques as well as to experiment with these techniques and new equipment.
In addition to the advanced course, we have several specialty courses such as the lead climbing course that address specific problems. One specialty course the tram rescue course. At the time it was initially written the city had two trams -- a small tram in the Bronx Zoo and the Roosevelt Island Tramway that spans the East River and connects Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. When developing this course I followed a principal I had used before in developing curriculum. Do not reinvent the wheel. In the lead climbing course, we used rock climbing equipment and modified the techniques to conform to our environment. In the case of the trams, I looked at what ski patrols were doing and eventually visited the ski patrol at Hunter Mountain who showed us their techniques. Once again, these techniques were modified to fit our environment.
Another issue to take into account when designing a new course of techniques is compatibility. When designing the lead climbing course, there are many nice light belay systems available but choose a belay system that is already in ones repertoire. Since lead climbing is such a unique scenario that would rarely be encountered, the thought was “better to use a good system that we work with all the time than a slightly better system that we would rarely utilize.”
When looking towards advanced rope techniques you should first conduct an honest evaluation to determine needs. Do you need to be prepared for everything or will mutual aid be on the way to assist with that scenario that was deemed highly unlikely? A potential advantage with many advanced techniques is that after the team is proficient in the basics, choose techniques à la carte, only picking the techniques that are of use to the team. When considering how to solve a given scenario, do not reinvent the wheel. Look to what others are doing or have done. In some cases, it may be better to hire someone for a specific job either to consult with on a solution for training.
While this series has been specifically about rope rescue, many of the concepts are applicable to many of the other emergency disciplines.
James Kiesling is a Captain with the Fire Department, City of New York’s Special Operations Command. He holds a bachelor of arts in fire and emergency services from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an associates degree in occupational studies in fire protection technology from Corning Community College.