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We were deep inside a cave on a rescue exercise carrying over 100kgs of gear, and I thought ‘there must be a better way’.

Grant Prattley, November 19th, 2019

After 24 hours on the go, three rescuers remained at the top of a 110m pitch. We had rigged a tracking line with a 70m offset with a small team of rescuers. With a few more rescuers, we hauled the patient as well as lots of equipment up the pitch.

After a quick calculation, I realised we had completed over 1000m of hauling in 24 hours! Then, as we were carrying over 100kgs of rescue gear out to the entrance, I thought ‘there must be a better way’!

Question

What can 1000m of hauling in 24hrs and carrying over 100kgs rescue gear do?

Answer

To be honest, it nearly broke me, but most importantly, it got me thinking and questioning what we do.

First, we must stop and analyse what we need and then act. Contrary to what you might think the latest rope rescue equipment and high-end techniques are not necessarily going to help you achieve your goals.

My name is Grant Prattley, and I am the founder of Over The Edge Rescue. We help organisations improve their performance. We provide customised rescue solutions to organisations in New Zealand, Australia and around the world.

We find out what you need first, and then working with you, develop a solution. 

For example

We worked with the New Zealand Speleological Society (NZSS) to develop a new way of operating in cave rescues by defining the problem first. It was important to have first-hand knowledge of the operating environment and therefore, have experienced the challenges rescuers have.

These are the things we found for cave rescues:

  • Rescues occur deep in caves several hours from the entrance
  • For every hour travelled into a cave, it’s 12-24 hours to rescue a person
  • Rescuers operate in smaller teams (3-4)
  • Rescuers don’t often train together (1-2 times per year max)
  • Rescuers have a limit to the amount and size of gear they can carry. Cave packs tend to be 35 litres and a small profile to fit through narrow holes.
  • The rescue load is usually 100kg. As cavers are set up for efficient ascending already, the attendant ascends beside the stretcher.
  • It’s all manual labour. There is a lot of physical and mental fatigue.
  • Rescuers need to be self-reliant for the first 24 hours – feeding, sleeping, drinking.
  • Rescuers need a broader understanding of cave rescue, including underground comms and incident management.

We ran several workshops were we tested a new simple system based on lighter weight ropes and equipment including the gear cavers usually carry. Only then could we develop rescue courses that met the needs of the organisation.

The final step was to put everything together during a 36-hour deep cave SAREX (Search and Rescue Exercise).

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