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Apollo Bay rope rescue training
All-volunteer Apollo Bay Brigade was already on the schedule for steep angle rescue training.
A shocking 2012 accident when a car hurtled 90 metres from Cape Patton down to a rock shelf by the ocean, leaving a woman trapped, demonstrated an urgent need for the training.
“There’s a lot of emergency services scrutiny of the volunteers at Apollo Bay and their handling of that job was amazing,” said District 6 Operations Officer Byron Kershaw who is also CFA’s technical rescue instructor in Barwon South West. “The pressure on them over an eight-hour rescue was incredible.” A Victoria Police inspector agreed, calling them “a credit to [y]our organisation” in a letter of praise.
The challenge, from Captain David Howell’s point of view, was the lack of members with these specialist skills, but not any longer. Eleven Apollo Bay members completed the May steep angle rescue course – three as a refresher and one helping instruct – so 12 brigade members now have the qualification.
Also in attendance for the one-day theory/three-day practical course were eight career firefighters from Geelong City, another three from Warrnambool and a volunteer from Hamilton.
“Mixing career and volunteer in rope training is all part of Barwon South West building a technical rescue team,” said Byron. “The four districts work together with their emergency response tables so that we have a complete picture of our technical response capability. It increases the region’s flexibility and builds awareness of each other’s capabilities.”
All course participants learned the seven key knots and the ins and outs of the standard equipment from ropes, harnesses, pulleys and hauling gear to carabiners, descenders, stretchers and PPE. Members learn the finer points of the twin-rope rescue system, adopted statewide, with people connected by two pieces of rope at all times in case one fails.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of a technical rescue is finding the balance between urgency and the need for absolute caution.
“Everyone in the course did 12 drills on steep hills near Apollo Bay,” continued Byron. “Everyone got to be the commander, the haul team commander, the safety officer, the belay operator and a member of the over-the-edge team. We’re teaching people to step up as the rescue commander; we’re teaching people to work as a team. Everyone learns to do a lot of checking of welfare, whereabouts and progress.”
One thing Apollo Bay members didn’t need any revision on was the nine-to-one mechanical advantage pulley system. The Cape Patton rescue involved some 10 people on the pulley hauling up nine metres of rope for every one metre of stretcher ascent.
“We’re by ourselves for nearly every job for at least an hour so we’re a very isolated brigade,” said David. “It makes you better at what you do, but the Cape Patton job stretched us to the limit.
“If there’s a rope job, we call in the career fireys at Warrnambool and Geelong City like we did that day. The career fireys and police search and rescue can look at our set up when they arrive and we feel equal to them. We get lots of affirmation from the police and the ambos and we’ve never let them down.
“The challenges for us are busloads of tourists every day, narrow roads, drivers unfamiliar with the road and distracted by the view. We do breathing apparatus, road and rope rescue and search and rescue with just 15 operational members. We got five new members last year; they did minimum skills before Christmas and already they’ve got their steep angle qualification.”
Apollo Bay Secretary/Treasurer Leah Beamish got a boost from the course. “I felt a lot of confidence in myself and in the team,” said Leah. “It’s also knowing that there’s backup for us and watching the backup in action. You have different brigades and volunteer and career fireys all merging as a team.”
It can’t be a coincidence that a high-challenge/varied-incidents brigade such as Apollo Bay has had a significant number of volunteers train as career firefighters. The Great Ocean Road and the Otways throw up complex emergencies and that challenge is inspiring and can point to a career direction.
Apollo Bay members will be offered high angle rope rescue training before the end of the year.