Spotlight on a specialist rope rescue team

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Every callout is different for Monbulk Fire Brigade’s steep angle rope team.


Called District 13 Rope Rescue Team – which also includes members from Wandin brigade – these highly-trained volunteers at times travel up to 150 kilometres away to rescue people from cars, mountains, disused mines and even internal staircases.

“If there’s a hill you can drive off or fall off, we’ve probably been there at some point over the past 20 years,” Monbulk Fire Brigade Captain Simon Schroder said.

“We often get called out to a job described as a high-angle rescue, but it might not be what we expect when we arrive. People vary considerably in their ability to judge distances and slopes.

“A rescue needs a team of about eight or nine people, so we rely on Wandin and partner agencies to put a team together. We work and train closely with Alexandra and Marysville SES units.”

Monbulk brigade’s specialists have been operating since around 2003 and there are currently three high-angle operators and 11 steep-angle rope operators. So what’s the difference?

“A steep-angle rescue is anything up to 60 degrees of slope, and a high-angle rescue is between 60 and 90 degrees,” Simon explained.

Maintaining and improving rescue skills is obviously crucial for Simon and his team.

“We train in rope rescue about every six weeks while also maintaining skills in our other areas of response – road rescue, wildfire and structures fires.

“We also take part in inter-agency training. For example, Wandin brigade recently sent two members to train with Marysville SES on steep-angle rope scenarios on Lake Mountain in the snow-covered toboggan runs.”

Also, three Monbulk brigade members recently qualified as high-angle operators in a joint training course with VICSES.

“The past 12 months have been busy and it’s definitely getting busier,” Simon said. “We usually average about 25 to 30 calls per year, but we recently carried out seven rescues with ropes in just one month.

“As we’re a road accident rescue team, you may think we mostly rescue people from cars, but the majority of our jobs don’t involve cars. We help many hikers in Cathedral Range State Park near Buxton, where there are a lot of vertical rock faces. Rescues here are generally prolonged affairs, a long hike in and out carrying the heavy packs of gear.

"Many of these jobs can be 10 to 12 hours," Simon said. "Occasionally, paramedics have had to camp for the night with patients we’ve rescued and get airlifted in the morning because of low visibility and night settling in.”

Given the terrain, it’s virtually impossible to get people out, so the rope rescue team gets them to the top of the cliff or a suitable clearing and a helicopter then takes them to hospital.

“In the past year we’ve also rescued people in various locations around District 13 including Healesville, Yarra Glen, Gembrook and closer to home at Menzies Creek.

“We’ve rescued people and dogs who have fallen at quarries and disused mine shafts. We even rescued a man who fell off a tall ladder inside a house. The stairway was very narrow, so we had to carry out a rope rescue.”

Being a road accident and steep-angle rescue brigade, they see a lot of trauma that can impact the members.

“We have good access to peer support and most calls also have a roadside debrief where we discuss the issues," Simon said. "It’s an opportunity to talk about the incident and how we can do better.

"Major incidents, which often involve multiple agencies, can have an after-action review.”


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