Academy Blog Series - Battalion 42

Week 8    Low Angle Rope Rescue Operational (LARRO), Truck Operations Field Exercise

This week focused on two staples within the fire service, each with its own set of guidelines, both critical for life safety.  Which staples, rope rescue systems and truck operations.  Both are considered basic training, however, there is an expertise behind the ability to perform rope and truck related assignments that come in low frequency and high intensity call types.

Every fire engine company carries rope rescue equipment and a standard complement of ladders and nearly every fire department houses a fire truck.  However, countless fire departments train a pool of truck personnel to an additional level of expertise for "Truck Response". Over the past few days, Battalion 42 experienced an environment as it relates to calls for truck response in the form of "over the side" and "fire ground support" work.

Rope orientation training was introduced back in academy week 2.  During that early session, a series of knot tying was demonstrated with the anticipation these knots would resurface in the form of a Knot Manipulation Exam the morning of LARRO, Day 1.  Thus, the start of week 8.

Monday morning the cadets reported to the academy classroom at 0800 for an introduction to State Fire Training's LARRO course.  The certification course offers three days of training in various areas of rope and system component use.  Course organization, management and equipment were discussed.  Within an hour, the group was moved to the knot rack for knot tying evaluation.

The series of knots to be evaluated consisted of the families of eights, overhands, bowlines and directional knots, the becket bend, butterfly, radium and webbing tied harnesses.  Tying standards were set with appearance, function and time.  Numerous cadets conquered the knot tying challenge with just as many having to complete a second round of evaluations, scheduled as a contingency the next morning. 

Day 1 was all about "Ground School".  This school had the group together at the knot rack area with equipment set up by category and function.  A recognition station was organized for system component identification.  Cadets learned the difference between rescue and utility rope, webbing, prussiks, caribiners, brakebars and pulley types.

Other areas covered a variety of rescue knots, anchor systems and mechanical advantage.  At the anchor area, cadets were shown how to secure an available anchor and how to build an independent anchor in the absence of an available one.  Driving metal pickets into the ground with the use of a sledge and webbing gave cadets aiming and tool handling practice. Attaching webbing to the various anchor types were then demonstrated.  At the mechanical advantage station, crews learned the difference in the hauling capability of a single pulley in comparison to a combination of pulleys which can drastically change work load and system productivity for the better.

The afternoon session of ground school took the group farther into system function and safety. The rope rescue of victims requires reinforced safety lines, strategic rescuer movement in an adverse environment while calmly interacting with victims as life saving equipment is safely secured to them.

Belay lines are a secondary safety system for rescuers.  Cadets learned the function behind each of the components within these systems.  The lines are attached to the member going over the side while another member tends the slack on the system.  Cadets learned to work the load releasing devices utilized when rope tension and component malfunction impedes lowering and raising efforts. Descending and ascending techniques were discussed to assist cadets with the smooth operations of the overall rescue.

Attaching personnel, equipment and victims to the systems was covered.  Cadets donned harnesses and attached themselves to the given system.  They were shown how to rig a stokes litter basket to the line and prepare the basket for victim rescue.  Lashing is a term used for the methods of securing a victim within a stokes basket. Cadets were instructed how to tie each type of lashing, interior which attaches the victim to the basket and exterior which reinforces the hold on the victim within the basket.  A solid day of system foundation building.

Tuesday focused on system assembly.  The props reserved to create a realistic environment to build these assemblies consisted of a constructed dirt mound called the Trench prop and the 5 story training tower on academy grounds.  After the successful completion of the knot remediation exam, the Battalion was divided off to gather at their assigned drill stations.

At the tower, cadets built lowering systems with accompanying belay lines to lower their rescue member to a victim staged on the low angle decline built into the tower's east side. Teams at the system level were charged with locating anchors for each of the lines, constructing both lowering and belay systems then lowering their rescuer down the slope to make contact with the victim.  Once victim contact was safely initiated, crews changed the lowering system over to a raising system as the rescuer over the side interacted and outfitted the victim with the proper harnessing for the ascent.

The trench prop set the stage for similar tactics.  Cadets had to build lowering and belay systems to send their rescuers down the dirt slope to the staged victims.  However, the descending crews consisted of multiple rescuers.  On one side of the prop groups sent 3 rescuers to the victim while on the other prop side, crews sent 4 rescuers.  This tactic involved different preparation priorities as rescuers needed to attach themselves to the system rigging and stokes basket set up. 

Upon arrival to the victim, the down team would move that victim into the stokes basket securing him with both interior and exterior lashing.  The team up top would make the necessary changes to convert the lowering system to a raising system.  When ready and instructed, teams would pull the lines, hauling the rescue crew up slope while resetting components as needed until the entire ascent was accomplished.  Lots of work for sometimes little movement as rescuers were hauled to safety.

Wednesday morning began with a reinforcement of Tuesday's lessons.  Cadets continued the practice of selecting a member to go over the side while others built and tended main and belay systems.  Confidence was building and systems were complete within significantly shorter time frames.  Crews were grasping a stronger understanding of why and ability of how to build the systems required.

The last afternoon of LARRO and greatest challenge of the course was an "All Hands" scenario. The Battalion staged at the base of the tower as cadre members positioned selected victims on the pile of concrete rubble just west of the trench prop.  Squads were dispatched to a simulated traffic accident with a vehicle over the side containing multiple ambulatory and non-ambulatory victims, all needing rope rescue.

"Trench IC" commanded the exercise.  Squads were given various jobs such as, securing the working perimeter, identifying and establishing anchor systems, preparing equipment to be carried over to the victims, building parallel lowering and belay lines and positioning a rescuer at the slope's edge to monitor and communicate operational needs.

The Battalion performed well and worked in unison as they made access to the victims sitting on top of the rubble pile.  Numerous rescuers were lowered to address the multiple victims. Cadets assigned to system building converted lowering lines to raising lines while the victims were being tended to.  Time constraints called the drill before all victims were raised to safety. A rescue job well done nonetheless.

The day ended with the clean up and inventory of equipment used over the three day period. Cadets completed a task book to document their certified training.  Certificates were printed and will be issued at graduation.  The Battalion's first certification course now behind them.

Thursday served to be the longest day of the group's busy week.  Another early arrival to load necessary equipment and instructional supplies for the Field Exercise scheduled at Oxnard Fire Station #1.  Additional belt axes, rubbish hooks, SCBA harnesses and bottles were loaded into Squad 1.  Rehab supplies, 20 sheets of OSB, 25 studs, 1000 square feet of roofing felt, a couple of dozen hammers, a case of nails and cadet issued PPE were loaded into the strike team of vehicles designated to make the trip to Staging, a parking lot across the street from Station 1.

A travel briefing, radio check and early departure put the Battalion enroute by 0800.  Vehicles were positioned in strike team fashion then unloaded with gear placed in formation.  After check-in was complete with the crews at Fire Station #1, the Battalion was briefed and relocated to fire station grounds.

Captain Cecena welcomed the Battalion.  He assigned early morning tasks for apparatus, drill station and equipment preparation, then ushered the group into their onsite classroom for a high energy motivation session. He explained the operational plan of the day and gave a brief overview of each of the scheduled drill stations.

Drill Station #1, Inside Operations & Utility Control.  Drill Station #2, Forcible Entry.  Drill Station #3, Roof Operations & Saws and Drill Station #4, Ladders; Ground/Aerial.

Training began with interactive discussions and instructor lead demonstrations showing cadets how to recognize a given situation or problem, select the method of which to conquer that problem, then execute the appropriate techniques for that method.  

Techniques such as finessing an attic ladder around the contents within a building, pulling ceiling in a burned room to check for fire extension, evaluating a given locking mechanism to determine the tactics to force it, physically and strategically forcing a metal door, trouble shooting starting delays with power saws, searching for and securing building utilities, using chain saws to cut ventilation holes on a simulated roof, rescuing a downed firefighter while utilizing a thermal imaging camera, climbing an aerial ladder and manipulating longer straight and extension ladders were among the numerous tasks cadets were to perform.

Field exercises are important sessions with academy instruction, as it provides a real time view of the facilities our surrounding fire departments train in. Cadets experienced a fire station environment set up for training while simultaneously serving as a fire station at the ready for emergency calls for service.

The added value of utilizing Oxnard Fire Station #1 as an alternate fire academy training ground for a session offered a remarkable view of the training area Oxnard City Fire Recruits experience upon hire. The training was priceless as many of the tasks performed utilized apparatus, tools and equipment unavailable to the Oxnard College Regional Fire Academy on a daily basis.  As an example, the use of Truck 61 with its aerial capabilities and full complement of ground ladders.  A huge round of applause and gratitude to the City of Oxnard Fire Department.

After drill station and grounds clean up, the Battalion gathered their gear and traveled back to academy grounds.  An enthusiastic, yet exhausted group off loaded all equipment and formed up in front of the apparatus bay.  Positive reviews for a great day of training.

Battalion 42, this week was loaded with lessons learned from every angle.  You are doing well and experiencing numerous situations, many for the first time.  Stay the course and continue to perform with a team setting in mind.  The world is yours and academy success is just weeks away.  Train to Survive.

Captain Crudo