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Technical rescue's vertical climb
From 24 to 27 March, CFA crews participated in seven technical rescues across the state from a dog down a mine in Bright to a woman stuck on a cliff edge in Allansford. Oscar 1 and Bendigo rope rescue followed a blood trail with police at Tooborac to find a dead kangaroo down a mine shaft.
Wandin’s road rescue unit extricated two patients from a car down an embankment following a collision on Mt Dandenong Tourist Road in Kalorama on 24 March. Rope rescue operators from Monbulk and Dandenong Fire Brigade performed the steep angle rope rescue.
“It came to rest on rocks 10 metres down,” said Monbulk member Paul Willoughby, “with men in their late 70s/early 80s inside. The passenger was believed to have spinal injuries as he had a loss of sensation in his legs. The stretcher crew had to turn him onto the spine board, secure him on the litter [stretcher] and prepare him, the stretcher and the four-person crew to be hauled up the steep embankment.”
The rescue operator, belay operator and haul team hauled both patients up in succession. As they were transferred to hospital, police, CFA and an ambulance commander did a full roadside debrief.
From 1 July to 30 April, 63 technical rescues were carried out across the state with 38 pets, people and/or bodies being retrieved. These included steep angle, high angle, confined space, trench, mine rescues and structure collapse.
“This financial year has been unusually busy,” says Dandenong Senior Station Officer Daryl Owen who is a technical rescue instructor and a District 8 technical rescue coordinator.
While this could be a spike in numbers, Monbulk Captain Simon Schroeder believes it’s “more just that we’re using it where we should be”.
Daryl agrees. “The increase can be linked to a better understanding by emergency workers of how to make our work environment safer. Rope rescue systems reduce manual handling and so reduces the risk of injury to rescue workers.”
Monbulk, Mt Beauty, Mirboo North, Fish Creek, Loch, Casterton and Nar Nar Goon are all steep angle rescue brigades. Apollo Bay, Warrnambool, Hamilton, Ballarat City, Bendigo, Mildura, Morwell and the Hume response out of Wodonga/Mt Beauty/Wangaratta are all high angle brigades.
Dandenong and Geelong City are the two technician locations with rappelling skills and the capacity to operate a high-directional frame to get a stretcher over a vertical edge.
“We have been working closely with SES and developed a joint training package, so it’s all interoperable and about joint capability,” continues Daryl. “We will both use the same systems and techniques.”
Nine career staff and one volunteer are qualified instructors who lead technical rescue teams in decision making on equipment and technique standards. They also lead operationally when dealing with complex anchoring, for example, or running vector force analysis; at incidents involving extreme distances and loads, or those where CFA supports another agency such as at cave and mine rescues.
To become an instructor, each member completes a task book and skills testing and is mentored during training courses. Some instructors have attended seven-day intensive rescue courses provided by international companies and trained with other agencies including MFB, SES and Victoria Police Search and Rescue. Instructors perform around 100 hours of skills maintenance per year.