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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Confined Space Rescue Planning: Key Considerations

Monday, March 02, 2020

Do you have a rescue plan for your permit-required confined space entry work? One that has been practiced regularly and revised if necessary? If you can't emphatically say "yes" to these questions, consider this sobering statistic: Over 60% of confined-space fatalities in multifatality confined-space incidents involve the would-be rescuer. This is often due to poor and/or quick decision-making when things go wrong... in other words, not sticking to the plan (if one exists). Having a plan in place that accounts for all the "what-ifs" can prevent these fatalities from happening.

What elements should a permit-required confined space rescue plan include? Roco Rescue Safety Officer Pat Furr outlines these in an article in Safety + Health (the official magazine of the National Safety Council).

Read the article in its entirety and click here to download our Confined Space Entry Quick Reference Checklist.

CS Preplan Checklist

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When Learning the Ropes, There’s Always More to Learn

Monday, February 24, 2020

By Brad Warr, Roco Rescue Chief Instructor

I took my first rope rescue class in 1995. I spent a lot of my youth in the outdoors and did some knot-tying and rappelling at scout camp. I have fond memories of flying down the (super-sketchy) zip line at summer camp. Climbing over the edge at my first rope rescue class wasn’t terrifying, it was exhilarating. It was also confusing - really confusing.

Scaling a vertical surface

Urban and industrial rope rescue had collided with wilderness rescue techniques. NFPA regulations relating to technical rescue were being adopted by fire departments across the country. Industrial rescue teams were adopting those same standards and the race to heavy rigging was well underway. 

Questions Abound

Confusion reigned, in part because it was a time of great change, but also because I was so green. I remember having so many questions. Did my rope need to be brand new for every rescue? Why did a figure 8 have ears? So, I wrap three but only pull two? Why should I avoid descenders with too many moving parts and why do my double pulleys weigh 6 pounds? Mechanical cams will strip my rope but if I wrap a couple of those little cords around my big rescue rope then I am safe? It was a lot to digest.

Now, 25 years later, I have learned so much. Mostly I have learned that there’s always more to learn. I have learned that money spent on quality training is money well spent. I have been privileged to train with some of the best instructors in the world. It has taught me that if I am to be successful as a rescuer and as an instructor that I must evolve… much like the equipment has evolved and will continue to evolve over time.

Equipment Advances & New Techniques

Brad Warr teaching at the Roco Training Center

Today our descenders have pulleys, our pulleys have swivels and the equipment we use is incredibly reliable and, well, mechanical. The equipment is sleek. It’s smooth. Best of all, it’s not complicated.

We’ll be doing a demo of some of that equipment and the techniques that drive the hardware (teachings adapted from our rope rescue training courses) at the North Dakota Safety Council's 2020 Safety Conference. We’re proud to be partnering with the North Dakota Safety Council to make industrial safety training and services more accessible in a region experiencing rapid industrial growth. Roco Rescue Director of Training Chris Carlsen and I will be offering a different hands-on session on each day of the conference. Sessions and topics include:

  • Advanced Rope Rescue. Learn the most efficient rescue techniques, using modern rescue equipment and systems. Recent advances make it possible to perform the same task with a higher degree of safety while also being more efficient in terms of manpower, equipment and time.
  • Mechanical Advantage Systems. We’ll teach you the principles of mechanical advantage in an easy-to-understand way. Covered topics include calculating input and output forces, determining appropriate equipment requirements for a given situation, as well as often-overlooked considerations such as frictional loss and sheave diameter. This is a hands-on class, taught on a 2-story training prop.
  • Vertical Mobility in Place of Traditional Means of Access. Rope access is significantly safer and in most cases more cost effective than traditional means of access (scaffolds, man-lifts, etc), which explains why it is gaining acceptance in a wide variety of industrial settings. We’ll teach and demonstrate several different rope access techniques and talk about scenarios in which they might be applied.
  • Intro to Rescue Advancements. A great opportunity to see the latest advancements in rescue equipment, systems and techniques, attendees will get hands-on experience as we demonstrate the latest techniques and equipment - and show how many tasks can now be done with a higher degree of safety and efficiency. Today’s lightweight precision manufactured equipment as well as modern synthetics have increased safety and give rescuers greater flexibility and multi-functionality than ever before.

A Safer Way

Even if you’re not attending NDSC’s conference this week, these are the types of topics you can expect when you come to Roco Rescue for training. We stay on top of the very latest developments in rescue and distill what’s most useful and most effective into our courses, in an easy-to-remember fashion. Our instructors are skilled rescuers and teachers who adapt their methods to a variety of learning styles.

We hope to see you at the NDSC Safety Conference or in one of our rope rescue certification courses. Check out your training options below, or call us to arrange for us to come to your site for training.

View Training Options

 

Brad Warr is a Chief Instructor for Roco Rescue and a Captain at the Nampa (ID) Fire Department. Brad joined Roco Rescue in 2003 and teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including rope rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, and structural collapse. He is also a member of Roco’s Contracted Safety & Rescue Team, providing standby rescue services for plants, refineries and other industrial facilities. Brad became a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Department in 1998 and was promoted to Captain in 2006. His responsibilities include training for the department’s Heavy & Technical Rescue Team. Before joining the fire department, Brad worked for three years as an Emergency Response Technician for a large manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, where he was responsible for OSHA compliance, emergency medical response, confined space/rope rescue response and hazardous materials response.

 

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Evaluating Your Rescue Service

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

 Evaluating your rescue service helps ensure that the team you have selected has the knowledge, technical skills, and capabilities required to meet your company’s specific needs. In addition, a team evaluation helps fulfill the performance requirements outlined in OSHA 1910.146 and 1926.1211. If you doubt the importance of selecting a competent and properly trained rescue team, consider this disturbing statistic: more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers.

2012_Chal_h_112OSHA 1910.146 Appendix F (non-mandatory) provides a great roadmap for employers when choosing and evaluating a confined space rescue team. It contains criteria that may be used to evaluate the capabilities of both prospective and current rescue teams. (Note: Although Appendix F is “non-mandatory”, the standards of 1910.146 are not. Appendix F is OSHA’s recommended method for compliance. Learn why you should pay close attention to Appendix F, even though it is “non-mandatory.”) 

The Two Components Of A Rescue Service Evaluation:

  1. An initial evaluation, in which employers decide whether a potential rescue service or team is adequately trained and equipped to perform permit space rescues of the kind needed at the facility and whether such rescuers can respond in a timely manner; and
  2. A performance evaluation, in which employers assess the skills of a prospective rescue team or rescue service during an actual or practice rescue.

Step 1: Initial Evaluation

The initial evaluation considers:

  • A team’s technical skills as evidenced by documented training
  • Number of personnel
  • Availability
  • Timeliness based on the hazards inherent in the space
  • Whether they meet the requirements of 1910.146 (k)(2) with regards to access to personal protective equipment (PPE), training in both technical rescue and first aid/CPR, and practice in representative permit-required confined spaces at least once per year
  • The ability to notify the employer when they are unable to respond – which is of particular importance for employers using 911 as their rescue service
  • and more (see Section A, Initial Evaluation in OSHA 1910.146 Appendix F)

Step 2: Performance Evaluation

Once employers have selected one or more rescue services that meet their criteria on paper, employers should provide the rescue service access to their worksite and ask them to perform in various scenarios of the employer’s choice. Performance evaluations should be administered to a prospective rescue service, as well as to periodically evaluate your current rescue service.

Consider Using A Third Party To Evaluate Your Rescue Service

Employers may opt to use a third party to evaluate their prospective rescue service. Third-party evaluations provide a number of added benefits:

  • They are useful when employers may not have the in-house expertise necessary to administer an accurate evaluation, or for employers who prefer having a third-party evaluation as a documented, independent, and unbiased record of the rescue service/team’s capabilities.
  • They provide an opportunity for the evaluator to recommend minor changes in equipment or techniques that would enhance the capability of the team.
  • In cases where contractors will be providing their own rescue capability, third-party evaluations help ensure that all parties are doing their due diligence where permit space entry is required. Some host employers mistakenly believe that they are relieved of all responsibility when a contractor’s employees are performing the entries. But 1910.146(c)(8) and (9) place reciprocal responsibilities on host and contractor. This includes the host employer informing the contractor that permit space entry is allowed only through compliance with a permit space program meeting the requirements of 1910.146, and the contractor informing the host employer of the permit program it will be following.

Taking the time to ensure that the rescue service you choose has the proficiencies and equipment to perform the specific types of rescue required at your facility could not only prevent injuries, it could even save lives.

If you would like additional information on utilizing Roco Rescue’s documented Team Performance Evaluation for your rescue service, please call 800-647-7626.

 


 

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Chris Carlsen: A Familiar Face Steps into a New Role as Director of Training

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

After 21+ years as a municipal firefighter with Albuquerque Fire Rescue, Chris Carlsen is stepping into a new role as Roco Rescue’s Director of Training. He brings to the role a background that includes extensive experience as an instructor, as a developer of curricula, and as a technical rescue program manager.

Chris is a self-proclaimed technical rescue “geek,” and his resume backs this up - he’s trained in everything from fall protection to large animal rescue operations. Although this is a new title for Chris, he’s been part of the Roco Rescue family for many years and is no stranger to Roco’s students and customers. In many ways, it’s a role he’s been preparing for all his life. Chris Carlsen speaks to participants at Roco Rescue Challenge

As the son of a firefighter, Chris got a lot of exposure at an early age to the world of fire and rescue. He gained a sense for how the work of first responders was highly valued and appreciated in his community. This sparked a desire in young Chris to pursue a similar life of service.

At age 23, he graduated from fire training school and joined what was then known as the Albuquerque Fire Department. Today the department is called Albuquerque Fire Rescue, and the name change reflects the changing demands of the job.

“An increasing portion of our calls involve some type of technical rescue,” Chris explains. “There’s a growing need for skills in trench, confined space, rope rescue, tower rescue, building collapse, vehicle extrication, machinery extrication, swiftwater rescue, and so on.”

Learning and Skill Development as a Never-Ending Journey

Chris got his first real taste of technical rescue about 2 years into his career when his department sent him to a Roco Rescue course. He quickly followed that up with a second Roco Rescue course on confined space and rope rescue. At that point, he knew he was passionate about technical rescue and had a desire to develop his skills further. However, his department needed him to step into a role as an instructor of fire suppression, which put his technical rescue development on temporary hold.

“That role made it clear to me that I loved teaching. I think people who love teaching also love learning,  because if you don’t know your topic inside out, you’ll realize it very quickly when teaching it, so you have to enjoy the process of very thoroughly learning about whatever topics you’re teaching.”

After about four years devoting his energy to teaching fire suppression, Chris was able to get back to technical rescue, again with a Roco Rescue course. He quickly became aware of how rusty his knowledge had become.

“It was a clear demonstration of how perishable technical rescue skills are,” he says.

Chris decided that the best way to maintain his technical rescue skills was to put them to good use, so he applied for part-time, off-duty work with Roco Rescue as a member of their standby rescue team. Chris’ work ethic, demeanor and communication skills made him an obvious choice as a candidate for Roco’s instructor development program, and Chris began working as a Roco Rescue instructor – again, during off-shifts from the fire department – back in 2006.

The skills he acquired with Roco Rescue – both as a rescuer and as an instructor - were immediately transferable to his role with Albuquerque Fire Rescue. Chris has been the Technical Rescue Program Manager for the past 8 years, a role in which he ensures the department has all the skills and equipment necessary to perform the many technical rescue sub-specialties required of a large municipal fire-rescue department.

“Rescue work is really a team sport. There are so many different skills required, and sub-specialties, so nobody can be an expert in everything. You need to diversify the training across your team.”

Keep It Safe and Simple!

Not one to get overwhelmed by all that there is to learn and train for, Chris’ interests span all areas of technical rescue as well as rescue team management and skill development.

“I just really enjoy teaching as well as learning new things – and there are always new techniques and new equipment to learn about in rescue. A big part of my job at Roco Rescue is to cut through the clutter and focus our courses on core principles, and identify the methods that are simple, effective and broadly applicable. We use the K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Safe and Simple! We’re always evaluating new techniques, new equipment and making sure we’re compliant with the latest standards. We love to innovate and try out new methods, because we’re always trying to find a safer way. But part of that evaluation is the K.I.S.S. rule, so even if it’s a cool idea, if it’s more complicated than it needs to be, if it’s not repeatable or practical, we won’t include it in our curriculum because it wouldn’t serve our customers well.”

Chris’ most recent role managing the technical rescue program at Albuquerque Fire Rescue gives him the perspective of many of the customers he now serves as Roco Rescue’s Director of Training. He knows what it’s like to be responsible for maintaining and developing the skills of a team of technical rescuers. He understands the importance of ensuring a team’s equipment needs are met, and that the team is healthy from a numbers and recruitment standpoint. He knows what it’s like to stand in his customers’ shoes because he has been there.

5 Tips for Managing Technical Rescue Teams

When asked for his thoughts on how to best manage the training needs of a technical rescue team, Chris emphasized these points:

  1. Do a thorough evaluation of your team. This will guide your approach to training. Identify your high-potential team members – those who are hungriest to learn, as opposed to those who are content to get to a basic level and maintain. Feed the hungry ones with additional training opportunities. If your team has skill deficiencies in particular areas, they are your best people to invest in.
  2. Work on building a culture of growth, where every team member seeks out opportunities to develop, and where team members are supportive of each other. It’s better to have a team of squeaky wheels who are constantly asking for additional training than a team that’s passive, even if they’re easier to manage.
  3. Training frequency will vary greatly, depending on the make-up of the team. Teams with high turnover or lots of new members probably need to do team exercises once a month. Most teams probably need to train once a quarter.
  4. Team training is distinct from individual practice. Individuals should be putting their hands on the equipment as often as possible. This means going to the gear locker and checking out some rope, cams and pulleys to build a mechanical advantage system in your spare time so that you know it cold. Team training sessions shouldn’t get bogged down by individuals who consistently struggle to execute their role.
  5. Variety in training is very important. No two rescue scenarios are the same, so training the same way all the time gives teams a false sense of security. That said, the scenarios don’t have to be radically different all the time – seemingly small changes to the scenario can add a lot of variety. Try adding one additional corner to navigate during your confined space rescue exercise. Or try the same rescue but with the lights off to simulate a power outage. Or work a scenario on air, and designate your strongest team member as the victim, and see how the team picks up the slack.

Paying it Forward

Chris also makes frequent mention of the high caliber people he’s worked with during his career as a firefighter and rescuer. “I’m very blessed to have always worked with great teammates and for great managers. Many people have steered me in the right direction, and helped me learn, grow and advance in my career. That statement applies to both my Albuquerque Fire Rescue family and my Roco Rescue family. I think it’s one of the benefits of this line of work – just lots of really great people. It definitely creates a desire in me to pay it forward.” 

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