Academy Blog Series - Battalion 42

Week 10    Rope Rescue Systems 1 Training

Academy blogs will be posted every Sunday, with a single week as the focus. Combining weeks 10 and 11 resulted in an unusually long read and thus will be kept separated. Week 10 alone spanned five days. So my early disclaimer for this Sunday's lengthy blog, pour a beverage, find a comfortable seat and live vicariously as a cadet as you read on.

Week 10 was an extension of the low angle rope rescue systems, LARRO training the cadets completed during week 8.  Rope Rescue Systems 1, RS1 is a course designed to train cadets in hazard recognition, equipment use and techniques required to operate safely and effectively at structural collapse incidents involving the collapse or failure of light-framed construction, heavy wall construction, high angle rope rescue and confined space rescues not requiring a permit.

The course is a forty hour state certification course and a prerequisite to performing as a member of a fire department Urban Search and Rescue Team.  Training covers four areas, rope rescue systems, heavy lifting and moving of objects, ladder rescue systems and emergency building shoring techniques. The course was conducted in a modular format with groups of cadets spending an entire day at a given station. A three modular format was chosen for this semester as it was the most cost effective and allowed for a more flexible use of instructors. 

At 0800 Monday morning, cadets sat in class, dressed in uniform, listening to the orientation and introduction phases of RS1 Training.  Within a couple of hours, the group would find themselves at the knot rack, testing once again on their ability to tie the same knots required for LARRO during week 8.  As required by the State, cadets must tie their way into RS1 with a minimum score of 80%.  Once the Battalion passed knot tying, RS1 Ground School began.

In ground school cadets are shown the elementary techniques and concepts of each of the 4 instructional areas. Companies stayed together and rotated through each of the fifty minute stations. At Shoring, cadets were introduced to various tools used for building, measuring and cutting.  A table designated specifically for cutting was displayed. Cadets would later utilize this table to make the cut requested by the group's build team.

At Heavy Lifting and Moving of Objects, dubbed Heavy, cadets learned the various classes of levers and how and when to use them.  They reviewed methods of stacking pieces of 2x4 and 4x4 wood at 18 inch length, called cribbing, and how this cribbing could set the foundation for bracing or holding an object weighing thousands of pounds. Over at Ropes, crews reviewed the use of anchor slings, pulleys as a mechanical advantage and converting a lowering system into a raising system and lastly at Packaging, companies practiced attaching harnesses to rescuers and two victims types, able and unable.

The 3-Modular format started Tuesday. Companies spent the entire day at either Ropes, Shoring or Heavy, with Ladder Rescue Systems remaining dark, not scheduled for the day. A comparison of challenges between RS1 instructional areas would find Ropes to be the greatest for most cadets because hanging or descending from a 5 story tower isn't something you would normally do everyday. It certainly made for the best still and moving footage while watching cadets overcome their fears of height and the reliance of their own skill.

The rope station began with cadets practicing the techniques of basic rope rescue systems set-up.  Crews members worked together to attach each component to the system.  The first round of set-up would focus on two system types, a lowering system utilizing an anchor at a higher point and a safety system called a belay line attached at a lower point. These systems would support the cadets first round of repelling with an eight plate, a hand held metal devise allowing rope to pass through.

Repelling with an eight plate for the first time, especially from a 5 story tower, relies heavily on cadet confidence and skill, a qualified reassuring instructor and crew members at constant attention while tending to belay and lowering lines.  Cadets Stevens, Cleary and Hebert were among the first few to go over.  Each would position themselves at the edge of the rooftop, then work their way over the side, clinging to the rope with a grip strong enough to show arm muscles and pumping blood vessels. They listened intently as the instructors talked them through the sequence of tasks to accomplish a controlled descent to include locking off at a given level on the way down.

Locking off was a task in itself.  Cadets would walk their way down the face of the tower, then somewhere in the area of the fourth floor window, secure the rope around the eight plate, let go of everything, lean back and spread their arms wide in a relaxed fashion. Cadets Hill and Gratz locked off simultaneously, high-fived each other over a job well done, then savored the moment as a crew.

I stood at the fourth floor window recording Cadet Pliss as he was descending. I told him the footage of his methodical tying off techniques would later be used to show future cadets what lies ahead for them in RS1.  Good job Pliss. For the remainder of Rope scheduled days, the first part of every morning had cadets repelling from the tower from a number of different approaches, with every cadet conquering their anxieties and repelling techniques, many with the look of awesomeness as they climbed back up the stairs to the rooftop to work the next rotation.

Once repelling techniques were complete, companies built systems on the fifth floor to prepare for Ambulatory Victim Pick-Offs (an able rescuer retrieving an able victim).  Crews controlled the descent of their rescuer using a brake bar and belay line.  Cadet rescuers would walk their way down two floors of the building, traversing one window and entering into the next to greet the victim, another cadet, staged on the third floor. Here's where assignments turned even more challenging.  

The rescuer would attach a harness onto the victim while the crews above completed the conversion from a lowering system to a raising system.  Systematic securing of harness straps played a key role during this evolution to ensure rescuer and victim comfort during the haul (raise) to the floor above. The rescuer would assist the victim to the window sill while communicating with crews above. When ready, the rescuer and victim were slowly hauled up the face of the tower.  

On many occasions, both rescuer and victim were suspended from the lines three floors up while above crews reset their raising systems.  Quite the photo op as the two waited, the rescuer with his/her boots planted on the tower's face and the victim secured and dangling with arms and legs loose. LAFD Captain Ketaily took a perfect picture depicting the environment and posted it on Facebook.  Nothing but smiles from the rescuing Cadet Pelkola and victim Cadet Dominguez. The photo displayed in this blog has Cadets Minicucci and Barassi on the left watching the rescue efforts of Cadets Gratz and Galbraith on the right. A great example of the use of mechanical advantage as those two are size of offensive linemen and were being hauled by crew members a fraction of their size.

Horizontal litter basket operations with tending lines kept the companies working as teams. One cadet would be secured into the basket while up crews hauled and down crews kept tension on tag lines.  This by no means was an easy task for down crews.  Every one of them with facial expressions showing the demands of physical strength as they pulled to keep the basket a level distance from the building during raising or lowering operations.  As Cadet Garcia called the orders for line tenders, Cadets Giovinazzo, Powell, Smith and Herrera R. worked with all spent to keep Cadet Brinkman level and positioned for a safe entry into an above floor window.

Heavy began with cadets raising, stabilizing, moving then lowering a 4000 pound single block of concrete.  As with all RS1 stations, teamwork is key. One cadet was assigned to call the shots while others used pry tools to lift the block the slightest amount so the first wooden wedge could be placed underneath. Lifting measures continued until the requested height was achieved and appropriate cribbing methods were demonstrated.  They also worked to carefully raise, stabilize, FLIP and lower this same block.

A number of other heavy objects were used.  A combination of concrete slabs had the cadets working together to position the slabs at staggered levels to make access and retrieve simulated victims. Another assigned task was to lift a slap to a level high enough to place poles underneath. These poles would serve as the rolling mechanism to relocate the concrete pad. Arcadia Fire Captain Twitchell stood on the pad and raised his arm in the air showing his best impression of George Washington crossing the Deleware river while the cadets worked in sequence to roll his concrete boat along. Picture perfect.

A day at Heavy finished off with rescue breaking and breaching.  Crews built a wooden clad 4'x4'x2' hollow platform called a biscuit.  Contents used to impede breaching were placed inside the hollow area. The biscuits were inserted into concrete tunnels as a barrier from one side of the tunnel to another. The group was divided into two teams, each team using a variety of hand tools to hack, cut and breach their way through the barrier. Once a hole was made large enough to crawl through, all team members would access the other side and win bragging rights.  Lots of competitive fun.

The Emergency Building Shores Module is one utilizing basic construction skills.  The day started off with a 90 minute classroom lecture introducing cadets to shoring concepts.  Once the lecture was complete the group moved to the Shoring prop where they began utilizing the onsite cutting station and measuring tools.  Wooden assemblies used to brace collapsed structural members of a building, called timber spot shores, were on display for the crews to examine. Their first assignment, tear down these shores and rebuild them as you found them. 

Three spot shore types were the morning focus.  One group placed spot shores using wedges, another using a metal jack assembly and the last using metal clamps to hold the shore in its position.  Crews did well setting their shore as they adjusted its height and stability. The afternoon consisted of constructing two post horizontal shores, wooden assemblies constructed to support wider span areas, and window and door shores.

The last RS1 module taught techniques of using ladders combined with rope rescue systems as a life-saving method of gaining access. Cadets learned how to build ladder "A" frames and attach a rope system capable of lowering a rescuer into a narrow area such as manhole or similar opening.  A rubber baby was placed in the simulated hole for the groups to rescue. Many cadets performing the best rubber baby CPR ever while being lifted to safety by their crew members. Other ladder framing assemblies had the cadets problem solving during rescue attempts. Ladder angle and position relies on the proper set-up of components and anchors. Crews found themselves on several occasions reanalyzing their systems to ensure safe operations throughout the given scenario.

Afternoon ladder operations would have the cadets securing one of their crew members to a wire basket stretcher attached to a long straight ladder.  The group worked together to vertically lift the rescuer litter basket with victim secured to an above level, as crews up top pulled the rescue basket to safety. Cadet Villavicenio had full faith in his lifting crew, Cadets Galbraith, Gratz, Locke and Hill and his pulling crew, Cadets Culp, Pliss, Barassi and Minyard, as they moved him from the ground floor up and through the second story window.

The week closed off with the breakdown and inventory of all equipment. The written test was administered and student task books completed. A long memorable week with experiences the cadets will share for years.

Walk tall 42 and maintain your strength in unity.  Your bond is unprecedented and will serve as the driving force for your overall success. The volume of material you've covered since Academy Day 1 has been comprehensive, spanning over a dozen topics and containing greater than a hundred tasks. Be proud of your accomplishments. Good job.

Captain Crudo