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Technical Rescue: Remembering the Ropes

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By Dr. Shana Nicholson, faculty member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University

Communities invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a reliable and well-equipped rescue truck. Every piece of equipment—from spreaders and cutters to hand tools and air bags—is necessary for rescue personnel. To ensure integrity and safety of rescue operations, every piece of equipment on a rescue truck must be thoroughly inspected on a regular basis.

I have found that when firefighters inspect the equipment on a rescue truck, the most neglected and least understood piece of equipment is the ropes. Although many personnel use ropes for utility line and life line on the fire ground, most do not have skills in rope rescue and do not understand how to properly inspect this equipment to ensure it hasn’t been damaged or compromised.

What Is Rope Rescue?

Firefighters from the Clarksburg City (WV) Fire Department conduct rope rescue training exercises
Firefighters from the Clarksburg (WV) Fire Department conduct rope rescue training exercises

When entering a scene, firefighters must establish a variety of things including the patient count, potential hazards, and the identification of resources. They must also determine if a technical rescue is required. Technical rescue includes rope rescue, trench rescue, confined-space rescue, and water rescue. Each of these operations requires knowledge of ropes, knots, and rescue systems.

Rope rescue can involve high-angle rescues, structural rescue, wilderness, and water rescue. Once the appropriate principle or process is identified, the correct technique for the situation can be executed. The execution of a rope rescue operation is a team effort and simply cannot happen without trained personnel and well-maintained equipment.

Inspecting Ropes for Safety
Rope, rigging, carabineers, and gear must be maintained and inspected regularly, especially when not used frequently. Each piece of equipment must be manually checked by firefighters. Trained personnel should inspect rope by visually looking for any damage

Lt. Patrick San Julian inspects rope equipment
Lt. Patrick San Julian inspects rope equipment

as well as feeling for any inconsistencies. When inspecting ropes, firefighters must look for tears or fraying along the entire length of the rope. There should not be any soft or hard spots, broken fibers, chafing, or other damage. Any evidence of excessive wear or degradation means that the rope should be removed from service.

It is also important to keep a log of the rope’s history to determine what it has been used for and how long it’s been in service. If there’s ever any doubt about the integrity of a rope, it is best to retire it from service rather than risk a firefighter’s life.

Training for Rope Rescue
Training in technical rescue is imperative for excellence and safety and must be practiced regularly, especially since such skills are not used routinely. The one constant is that every rope rescue involves tying knots and setting up systems. Firefighters must all practice these fine-motor movements, which can easily be forgotten without practice.

While basic-level trained firefighters are generally proficient with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and basic hand tools, their knowledge of ropes and technical rescue is generally minimal. Departments should make efforts to train these basic-level firefighters in components of rope rescue so they understand the techniques and equipment. This training must also incorporate the care of such equipment so firefighters know what to look for when inspecting equipment.

In-house training on ropes is critical not only to enhance the skillset of technical teams, but also to educate all firefighters about ropes to ensure equipment is well-maintained and any damaged equipment is identified and taken out of service.

Shana nicholson_FireTruck_pic_SMAbout the Author: Dr. Shana Nicholson has more than 20 years of emergency medical and fire science service experience. She is currently an active member of Stonewood Volunteer Fire Department in West Virginia. Her professional background also includes government, social services, and nonprofit administration. She is currently a faculty member in emergency and disaster management at American Military University. She received a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Fairmont State University, a master’s of science in Human Services with a specialization in criminal justice from Capella University and a PhD in human services with a counseling specialization also from Capella University.

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