Is Technical Rescue For You?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Altruistic, team player, social, hard worker, strong of spirit, caring for others, adrenaline junkie, somewhat athletic, closet superhero… If these are traits you possess, then you should consider training to become a technical rescue specialist.

Certain professions and certain industries have very clear needs for specific technical rescue skills. If you are a firefighter, technical rescue skills will make you a better firefighter, and may also help advance your career. Industrial facilities often have their own in-house rescue team, assembled to meet the particular rescue scenarios that are more likely to arise at that facility. These teams are usually made up of “regular employees” who have day jobs as operators, etc., but who receive extra training (and extra pay) to be on the rescue team.Helicopter rescue operation

If you’re not in a profession or an industry where there is a need, you can still become part of a local rescue group for your town or county, in which case you’ll want to train in the specialty disciplines most needed for your community. No matter where you develop your technical rescue skills, if you’re cool under pressure and your skills are solid, you will be in demand.

An Energetic and Enthusiastic Community

Rescuers are passionate and enthusiastic about rescue work. Another way of saying it is: nobody is “meh” about rescue. Every single rescuer I’ve ever talked to lights up with a certain energy when they talk about their particular skills and experiences. It doesn’t matter if they are part of a local mountain rescue group, a member of an industrial confined space rescue team, or work on towers with an ability to rescue their co-workers… when the conversation turns to rescue, their energy kicks up a notch.

The energy comes from a sense of pride and fulfillment. Seldom is it boastful or insincere. Most every rescuer is in it for the right reasons, and that is to do what you can, use your training and work as a team to help someone who has gotten into trouble and needs rescue.Tower rescue training

The Ups and Downs of the Job

Having taken part in many dozens of rescues, I can attest to the feeling of contribution that comes from knowing that someone will live to enjoy the rest of their days due in large part to my actions as a rescuer. It’s a good feeling.

However, if you’re considering technical rescue, it’s important to know that not all rescue operations have good outcomes. Technical rescue situations can turn into recovery operations before you even have a chance to do anything. And sometimes bad outcomes occur despite a rescuer’s or a rescue team’s best efforts. This is one of the realities that you must consider, but knowing that you did your best and remembering that without your efforts, that individual would have had no chance whatsoever, will help you refocus on the reason you must keep trying.USAR team in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Technical Rescue is a Broad Field with Many Disciplines

So, what rescue disciplines are we talking about? When most people hear “rescue” they tend to think ambulance crew, or maybe high angle rope rescue. However, there are many more disciplines that may have a need for rescue team members in your local area or your place of work. Here is a list of rescue disciplines taken out of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1006 standard for technical rescue personnel professional qualifications:


  • Tower Rescue
  • Rope Rescue
  • Structural Collapse Rescue
  • Confined Space Rescue
  • Vehicle Rescue
  • Animal Technical Rescue
  • Wilderness Search and Rescue
  • Trench Rescue
  • Machinery Rescue
  • Cave Rescue
  • Mine and Tunnel Rescue
  • Helicopter Rescue
  • Surface Water Rescue
  • Swiftwater Rescue
  • Dive Rescue
  • Ice Rescue
  • Surf Rescue
  • Watercraft Rescue
  • Floodwater Rescue

As you can see, there are many more rescue disciplines than the few that most people are aware of. If you see a specialty discipline from this list that you feel is something that you would be good at or that is in demand where you work, whether that’s industrial or municipal, I encourage you to get involved.Technical rescue training

Or, if there is a need in your local community, then you might contact your local search and rescue (SAR) team. This can be a great way to gain experience and build your skills. You may also want to research possibilities with your state’s FEMA or USAR team, which typically require advanced training and experience, but is good information to have if you’re setting your sights on eventually joining.

Common Characteristics of Technical Rescuers

Let’s look at some of the personality traits that I mentioned earlier and why they may indicate you are cut out for rescue.

  • Altruism: Having a selfless concern for the well-being of others is a very strong motivator for most all rescuers.
  • Team player: Taking pride in contributing to the team’s success and ultimately a successful rescue as a team, provides a shared gratification that seems to multiply within the dynamics of the team.
  • Social: Most of my best lifelong friends are rescuers. We tend to be a pretty happy and social bunch.
  • Hard Worker: Rescue requires effort. It is not a push button, blink your eyes and it is done sort of deal. It will require some study, at times uncomfortable physical effort, and the need to contribute as a support member.
  • Strong of Spirit: You will at times have to make decisions and accept responsibility for the outcome of those decisions. If you approach your training and operational responses with honesty and integrity, doing the best you can, that should give you pride in knowing that your promise to do your best is relied on by your team and your rescue subjects.
  • Adrenaline Junkie: OK, the reality is, most of the preparation, training for, and actual performance of technical rescue is not all that exciting. But there are plenty of moments that do provide a good deal of adrenaline producing moments.
  • Somewhat Athletic: Not all rescue activities are dynamic in terms of physicality, but most require some degree of fitness, agility, strength, and balance.
  • Closet Superhero: We like to keep this particular trait hush hush. I have dealt with some rescuers who did prance around as if they were wearing a mask and a cape, but for the most part we are a group of quiet professionals that internalize that feeling of being a superhero. But hey, I admit it, when things went really well on a rescue, at times I felt like Superman.

Answer the Call

We’ve just entered a new decade, which makes us take note of the passage of time and how we’re using ours. You’ve read this far because you’re curious about technical rescue work and wondering if it’s for you. Well, if you’re looking for a greater sense of purpose and you want to serve others, and if you want to be part of a dynamic and enthusiastic community, follow your gut instinct and go for it! You won’t regret it.

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The Roco RDX®: Designed to Make Fast Roping Safer

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

An Innovation from Roco Rescue’s Ish Antonio

Pat Furr: Today I have the pleasure of interviewing one of my Roco Rescue colleagues, Ish Antonio who manages our Tactical Division. Ish will be telling us about the Roco RDX® which is a device that was developed in our Tactical Division and is used during helicopter fast rope insertions.Tactical operators fast roping from a helicopterThis is not a device that would be used in your typical rescue effort, but for certain tactical operators, it makes their job significantly safer without compromising their speed of insertion.

Ish and I have known and worked together for nearly 40 years now, first as US Air Force Pararescuemen (PJs), and the last 19+ years with Roco Rescue. Our career paths in the Air Force were pretty intertwined, with Ish and I being assigned at the same unit a couple of times, and also with Ish assigned to a unit that provided fixed wing support for our helicopter squadron. In other words, we have a long history as both teammates and friends.

Ish has always been on the leading edge of coming up with innovative solutions to the operator’s needs. The Roco RDX is just such an innovation and I will let Ish explain what it does and how it works.

Ish Antonio: First, let’s talk about fast roping. We often arrive at the scene of an op by means of a helicopter, and frequently we can’t land the helicopter due to obstructions on the ground, or the landing zone is just too small, such as a rooftop in an urban environment. There are several options to get the operators inserted. They can be hoisted in using the aircraft hoist. They can rappel in using traditional rappel techniques. Or for large teams or for increased speed, the fast rope operation is the preferred method.  

The fast rope technique uses a two and a half inch braided rope that is attached to a highpoint at the aircraft exit. The difference between a fast rope insertion and being hoisted or rappel, is that with a fast rope, there is no positive attachment between the rope and the operator. 

So in essence, when you fast rope, you are holding on for dear life in the truest sense. Think of sliding down an old school fireman’s pole, only from much higher and usually at night with a lot of gear strapped to your body.

A lot of operators have been seriously hurt or worse with this technique due to missing the rope, falling off the rope, being knocked off the rope by a teammate, or being trampled at the ground by teammates landing on top. For most, the greatest hazard is exiting the aircraft and getting a good grip on the rope. It is a leap of faith and at night, on NVGs (night vision goggles), with a load of equipment and a line of teammates behind you, the potential to miss the rope is pretty high. Generally the aircraft will maintain about 5 knots of forward airspeed to avoid a dogpile at the bottom, but on tight LZ’s (landing zones) like the bridge of a ship or tight rooftop, it has to be in a stable hover and that’s when we have the potential for a dogpile. But the tradeoff is it gets the team inserted in minimal time and reduces the aircraft time on target.

PF: What is the RDX and how does it make fast roping safer for the operators as well as the canines?

IA: When we were active duty, we had our med kits, combat kit, survival vest or load bearing equipment, and other assorted odds and ends. It seems nowadays our operators are not only bigger, but they are loading out with much more and heavier kit. So the potential for coming off the fast rope is greater than ever.

The first version of a device to make fast roping safer is called the FREDS and it was developed about 15 years ago by a PJ named Tracy Barnet. The FREDS is a metal plate about the size of a dinner plate with integral friction bars much like a brake rack. To descend you had to actually lift the fast rope up to reduce tension. So, if you were in a higher hover or if there were people on the rope below you, then you would not be able to descend.

I got involved with the USAF Guardian Angel (GA) Program which you were also a part of, and I had already had an idea for a next generation device based on the alpine sandal wrap. Part of the GA Program was our heavy and light extrication packages which were both quite heavy. Add to that the K9 teams with a 60+ pound dog, and we are just adding more and more weight to the operator’s load, so we needed a device that would provide that positive connection, the added safety of a controlled descent, but would not require the rope below to be clear of personnel or so heavy that the weight would prevent the  FREDS from descending. I didn’t push the idea for the Roco Double X (RDX) because everyone seemed happy with the FREDS. But as the load outs got heavier I wanted to provide a better device that was safer and also was able to function with a loaded fast rope.

The name RDX is short for “Roco Double X” and is so named because it is based on the Sandal Wrap, which is a friction knot and forms an X behind the rope and a second X in front of the rope. RDX in position on a rope, with logo

I’m fortunate to live near the Pararescue (PJ) School at Kirtland AFB and have access to their training tower. The PJs were very interested in this project so they were great at supporting us with access to the tower for development testing. After performing hundreds of fast ropes on the various prototypes we developed, starting with ½” kernmantle, we evolved to the PMI Aramid type Technora rope which handles the heat that is generated much better than Dacron rope. The Technora will handle upwards of 700 degrees Fahrenheit before seeing any adverse effects and we will never approach that level of heat generation, even with the longest fast ropes and heaviest weights. So I am comfortable saying it is over engineered for this type of application.

PF: Can you describe in a bit more detail the configuration of the RDX?

IA: The actual length of the RDX is just a shade over 41 inches. I originally had a handle at the apex of the RDX positioned right at the mid-point which is where you start the sandal wrap and then wrap downwards. The original handle wasn’t allowing us to modulate the speed of descent the way we wanted it to, so we changed to a friction pad wrapped in Nomex mounted in the same position which gives us the exact amount of control we were looking for.

PF: The RDX is actually quite a simple device. It is essentially a length of Technora rope sewn together to form a loop with the friction pad. How do you connect?

IA: That’s what is so great about this device. Because it’s a continuous loop which forms two closed loops at each end, we simply bring those two loops together at the bottom of the sandal wrap and clip in there.

The beauty of the RDX is it’s small enough to fit in a cargo pocket but it’s rated at over 22 kN so it can also be used as an anchor sling for other rope operations.

PF: So it’s not a one trick pony.

IA: Exactly. It can be used for multiple functions and it is much cheaper to produce than the FREDS - which is a one trick pony. The FREDS still has its place, but for personal use and the fact that the RDX is multi-function, we feel it’s the better choice.

PF: Who would be the primary users of this device?

IA: The US Navy has really gotten onboard with it and the K9 guys especially. The word is still getting out on the RDX but for any unit that uses fast rope, especially when loaded with a heavy kit or a dog, the RDX provides a simple and safe means of infiltration. Military operator fast roping with K9

PF: This sounds like a great device. So what are the potential downsides to using it?

IA: Keep in mind that the RDX forms a knot around the fast rope, so just like any knot, it requires initial training and proficiency maintenance training in order for it to be effective. That being said, the sandal knot is a very simple knot to tie and to remember how to tie.

PF: Will the RDX work on any fast rope?

IA: That’s a great question. The short answer is yes it will. We have tested it on virtually every fast rope that is being manufactured. The point to keep in mind is that fast ropes are generally in the range of two and a half inch diameter, but there is some variation in those diameters and in the coarseness of the weave as well as the materials used. So the RDX will perform slightly differently depending on the fast rope it’s mounted to. But it will certainly perform as we intended.

PF: Do you recommend training with the RDX mounted to the rope that you will be using operationally?

IA: Yes, in a perfect world that’s the best plan. But sometimes we end up operating with a unit that uses a different fast rope than the one we use at our unit. If possible, it’s best to at least do some ground training off a tower with that rope. But if that’s not available, it will perform reasonably similar between the different ropes.  

PF: For me, the most dangerous part of fast roping was exiting the bird and getting a good grip on the rope.

IA: This is where the RDX really helps, especially for the operators with the bulkier, heavier loads and especially when you are maneuvering a 60+ pound K9 out of the airframe. The operator connects to the RDX prior to exit and thus has a positive connection and will not come off the rope. If they miss their grip, no worry as they will not start their descent until they handle the RDX on descent.

PF: Should the RDX be used for every operator on the infil?

IA: No, that’s not the intent. It’s really intended for the guys that have the extra heavy loads or the K9s. Everyone else just employs standard fast rope techniques. Ish Antonio, Roco Rescue Tactical Program Manager

PF: What if you have multiple guys on the stick that have heavy loads or K9s?

IA: This is one of the benefits of the RDX. You can preposition them on the rope. Simply wrap them into the sandal wrap and attach a carabiner and they will stay in place. So if you have three guys on the stick that should use the RDX, stack three of them at the top of the rope, everyone else exits normally and the last three can quickly clip in one at a time and descend under control.

PF: What other features does the RDX include?

IA: We have a tether attached to the RDX with a quick release which also connects to the top of the fast rope with a girth hitch. This prevents the pre-rigged RDX from moving until it’s released. It’s important to ensure the tether is attached to the top of the fast rope and not to the airframe so the fast rope can be cut away once everyone is on the ground. The operator uses that tether while connecting to the RDX with the carabiner. Once he is connected he leans into the RDX to ensure that it’s positively connected and then releases the tether just before exit.

PF: Who do you see as your market for the RDX?

IA: The US Navy has adopted it and so have most of the Air Force PJ teams. But it’s still relatively new and I think it will take some time before the US Special Operations Command, and other federal and state agencies such as SWAT or similar federal assets get to know it. Our biggest orders right now are coming from Europe. The European special operators are more aligned with general alpinism and understand friction knots and know all about things like auto-blocks. They use them all the time, so the RDX makes perfect sense to them.

PF: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today, Ish. Are there any last thoughts you would like to share about the Roco RDX?

IA: Our goal was to give the operators something that allows them to perform their mission with the degree of speed they need while at the same time adding a significant improvement in safety. We feel the RDX hits both those marks.

Editor's Note:

To see a 1-page pdf with pictures and key features:

https://www.rocorescue.com/product/rdx

To see a detailed video demonstrating many features of the Roco RDX, check out the video below from our YouTube channel:

 

 

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Use This Time to Inspect and Upgrade Your Rescue Gear

Thursday, April 09, 2020

For those of you who have had to drastically change your travel plans – which pretty much includes 90% of us – and if those travel plans were to attend rescue training, we hope that you have had a chance to read our recent blog article Roco Tips for Maintaining Rescue Skills in the Midst of Coronavirus

If you have had to cancel or postpone your planned training, chances are there are funds that were earmarked for your rescue team that may be diverted to another department or otherwise be lost if you don’t use them before the end of your fiscal year. Maybe those same funds can be used to support your rescue team in other ways.Roco's Rescue Gear Service Life Checklist

 If you use your rescue equipment regularly for training, to rig for potential rescues, or during live rescues, chances are, that equipment has seen some significant wear. Nylon gear is especially prone to degradation and is a likely candidate for replacement. In addition to the ASTM F1740-96 ten-year service life of nylon rescue gear, keep in mind that several manufacturers still place a shorter service life on nylon gear than the ASTM standard.

In addition to the service life of your gear, now is a great time to do a thorough inspection of ALL your equipment. Become familiar with the inspection criteria that the equipment manufacturer may have provided. Some hardware items include built in wear indicators. Learn which items have them, and inspect those items to see if they are still serviceable. For all your gear, check for proper function, obvious damage, indication of shock loading or loading beyond the rated working load, and history of the equipment, if known.

In addition to taking advantage of any available funds to replenish unserviceable gear, now may be the perfect time to purchase some of the gear that you have wanted to introduce into your rescue equipment cache. There are some incredible new pieces of kit that make your job as a rescuer easier and safer. Visit our blog to read about some of these items. If you are still using your trusty brake rack for friction control, give one of the newer devices a try, like the updated Petzl I’D or the new Maestro. The Omni Block pulleys are another great option to try out. There are just too many to list, so take the time to find out what is out there, what may be a great fit for your team and rescue needs, and look into spending some of that money while it's still available.

We’ll be posting informative videos in the coming days that showcase some of the latest equipment advances, so keep an eye on our blog and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date. As always, if you have questions or want to discuss if a particular piece of gear is right for you or our team, feel free to call us at 1-800-647-7626.  

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Roco Tips for Maintaining Rescue Skills in the Midst of Coronavirus

Monday, April 06, 2020

We are all being confronted with a pandemic that is compelling us to make significant changes in how we go about our day, both on and off the job.  With the current travel restrictions and the need for social distancing, we are challenged to adjust our behaviors while still being prepared to perform our rescue duties if called upon. 

Maintaining rescue skills proficiency was already challenging enough before Coronavirus, and it may be even more challenging now.  Although most training has been postponed at the Roco Training Center, it is still vitally important to keep your skills sharp. Confined spaces are still dangerous, and rescues will still happen. As always, it’s important to be ready.

We would like to offer some tips to help you maintain both your individual and team proficiency.  These tips are not intended to provide the same level of proficiency that attending a formal refresher class would, but we feel they will go a long way in helping you keep your skills at an acceptable, if not a highly polished level.

A rescuer acts as a litter attendant, or "barrelman", during an exercise at the Roco Training Center.

Our Roco training department has put together a list of skills to concentrate on while doing your own in-house independent training.  We based these on the skills that have demonstrated the highest degree of erosion or loss of proficiency over time, and also the skills that are most likely to be called upon for your rescue duties. 

First on the list are knots.  We should all be able to tie the knots we will need for any given rescue system, but let’s take it a step further and strive to become knot craftsmen.  So break out your rope and webbing shorts, and go through your knots.  The beauty of this practice is you can certainly maintain social distancing as you practice either alone or in small groups. 

Let’s go beyond the basics of dress, load and safety, and start to tie knots that make the system more efficient and safer.  For anchor knots like the figure 8 on-a-bight, start gauging how much rope you need to tie the knot with the resulting closed loop being more compact.  My gauge is to end up with a loop that I can easily clip three carabiners into, but not much bigger than that.  Those big loops end up being a hindrance when we are trying to clear a litter out of a vertical portal, or getting a rescue package up and over a parapet or guardrail.  By keeping those finished closed loops nice and compact, you economize and maintain that headroom. 

Work any twists or crossed material out of the knot before loading.  This isn’t just a question of appearance, but in many cases helps maintain the strength of the rope or webbing as you tie the knot.  The biggest advantage of reducing or eliminating twists or crossed material is that it is much easier to untie the knot and is certainly easier to recognize the knot as being correct during final safety checks. 

Practice tying knots around anchors coming from different angles and positions relative to the anchor.  It is easy to tie a clove hitch around a horizontal pipe.  Now start practicing tying it around a vertical anchor.  Or better yet, while you are standing on the opposite side of the anchor from where the standing section of rope is coming from.  It is the same knot, only now you are seeing it from a different orientation. 

So, challenge yourself to become a knot craftsperson.  Tie knots in the dark or blindfolded, behind your back, with winter gloves on, or any other way that is more challenging than in an air-conditioned well-lit room. 

To identify the skills that you should be practicing beyond basic knots, refer to your rescue preplans and list the skills required for your most likely rescues, as well as your worst case scenarios.  Don’t worry about building scenarios yet, instead divide the individual and team skills into discernable categories using the equipment that you have in your rescue cache.  During your rescue plan reviews, make sure to keep an eye out for any plans that need to be updated. 

The most common skills used, and the ones that seem to have a high degree of perishability, are:

  • anchor and system rigging
  • patient packaging
  • mechanical advantages, and
  • converting mechanical advantages to lowers (or vice versa)
A rescuer selects equipment while practicing proper rigging.

ANCHOR AND SYSTEM RIGGING

Anchor rigging is half science and half art.  Of course, we need to identify the anchors that we can use as either single point or multi-point anchors.  Single point anchors are generally easier, but even they can be done with an eye for efficiency vs. just slapping a sling around it and calling it good.  Can we extend that single point anchor to be in a better position to see the load or to be able to communicate more efficiently? Should we extend the anchor out from the wall a bit to allow room to operate a friction control device, versus being jammed against the wall and having to be a contortionist to operate the device?

For multi-point anchors, can we consistently end up with a two-point bridle that approximately shares the load equally between legs?  Are we maintaining safe angles and not approaching that 120 degree critical angle?  Are we hogging the anchors and leaving the safety line system with few or no options for their anchor? 

CONVERTING MAs TO LOWERS

If we anticipate converting a lowering system to a haul system or vice versa, can we make the conversion efficiently?  This is where the use of modern friction control devices makes our job so much easier and safer.  If you are using a device like the Petzl I’D or Maestro, or the CMC MPD, or any device that can be used for friction control and as a change of direction and progress capture in a haul system, it is good to practice the conversion back and forth from haul to lower and lower to haul, even with a load suspended. 

MECHANICAL ADVANTAGES

Practice building vertical simple MAs, horizontal Z-rigs, and also compound MAs.  Make sure there is always a progress capture or ratchet built into the system.  On the final checks, the system must be the proper ratio, including a final change of direction if called for, have a functioning ratchet, and all carabiners must be locked.  If you want a little tip that works no matter what you are doing, it is this credo: 

 

"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."

PATIENT PACKAGING

If you have a rescue manikin in your facility, now is a great time to practice social distancing by practicing patient packaging.  No matter which type of litter you are using, there is a lot of value in practicing with that litter to correctly secure the patient in the litter and then to create a safe and efficient bridle to attach the rescue system.  Practice this for both rigid and flexible litters and for horizontal and vertical orientations. 

For all the skills we have already listed, you can perform the practice solo and then step back to let one of your teammates do a quality and safety check on your work.

Finally, we all like to have some fun when we practice, so why not inject a bit of competition into the scene?  We love to have races to see who can build mechanical advantages fastest, but the most important thing is not the time. When scoring your contest, focus on the accuracy and safety of the finished product.  You can set up multiple lanes separated by the social distancing guidelines and have one team member be the timer and score keeper. 

So remember that team performance is dependent on individual skills coming together to build and operate the right system for the situation at hand.  Now is a great time to focus on individual skills so when this pandemic is finally past us, we can rock it as a rescue team.

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COVID-19 Update

Monday, March 16, 2020

Roco Training Center

To Our Customers and Friends,

Roco Rescue is up and running and doing everything we can to keep our employees and customers well and safe. In light of COVID-19, we are taking extra precautions in accordance with recommendations by the CDC. As such, extra cleaning and sanitation is taking place at the Roco Training Center where we continue to serve emergency responders on a daily basis. We plan to provide rescue training and services as long as our customers need us.

As we face this uncertain time, we will continue to update you, and do not hesitate to contact us if we may be of service.

On behalf of all of us at Roco Rescue, thank you for your continued business. We pray that you and your family stay healthy and well!

The Roco Rescue Team

 

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