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Eight hour rescue from Buchan cave
A group of CFA members driving home from a fire-line leadership course were flagged down by a person on the side of the road alerting them to a woman who had fallen down a cave near Buchan in East Gippsland.
At first, the CFA members thought this was an organised exercise as part of their course but they soon realised it wasn’t a drill.
The incident occurred at a private cave off Gelantipy Road on 19 July, 2015, just after 1pm. Johnsonville Brigade Captain Rod Baylis was first on scene and the initial Incident Controller. He quickly formed a command structure with assistance from other brigade members.
CFA’s Buchan Brigade Captain Peter White arrived on scene soon after and had no hesitation in entering the cave to assist the woman.
“I used to work in caves so I’ve spent a lot of time in them which gave me a good understanding and knowledge of safety aspects,” Peter said.
“We were also lucky one of the CFA members in the fire-line leaders course was an off duty paramedic so he collected as much first aid gear as he could and entered the cave to assess the patient and make her as comfortable as possible until an ambulance arrived.”
The initial assessment of the patient was a broken ankle and possible head and spinal injuries. The woman was trapped about 3 metres down, below a difficult part of the cave known as “a squeeze”.
“The opening the crews had to rescue the woman from would’ve only been about 400mm wide – about the size of the stretcher – so it was a very delicate and difficult rescue,” Peter said.
Buchan, Lakes Entrance, Morwell, Traralgon and Dandenong brigades were all called to the incident and joined other members who’d attended the leadership course from Districts 10 and 11. Other emergency services were also involved including Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria and SES.
“The great thing about the rescue was everyone worked as one – there was no difference between volunteers, career staff and other agencies. I was really impressed,” Peter said.
The Lakes Entrance CFA crew provided better access to the main part of the cave and set up air monitoring equipment as a precaution.
“Planning the rescue and the set-up took the most time. There was a high-line and a series of ropes used. There was a lot of manpower on scene and everyone was well utilised,” Peter explained.
The Morwell CFA members took over the rescue operations and built on from the work started by the Lakes Entrance rescue crew. When the Dandenong members arrived they blended well into the structure and concentrated their efforts on the area of the patient.
“When it came to the time to remove the woman from the cave, we wrapped her in a medical air mattress on a spine board which kept her as still as possible,” Peter said.
“Getting her through the squeeze was the hardest part; we had to turn her sideways to fit through.
“Photos were taken inside the cave to show the crews up top, giving them a better idea of what they were dealing with.
“The crews outside the cave then formed a haul line to help pull the woman out. We even had to cut down some trees to clear a big enough pathway for this.”
Just after 9.30pm, nearly eight and a half hours after the incident occurred, the woman was rescued safely from the cave. She was transported to hospital and later released with a broken ankle.
“The rescue was so unique and a great learning experience for me and for everyone on scene. It was a really fantastic team effort with a good outcome and everyone should feel very proud of what they achieved,” Peter said.