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New York Caving Meetup Group Message Board › Cave Rescue Orientation, review

Cave Rescue Orientation, review

avra c.
New York, NY
Post #: 2,025
What a blast. Just want to thank everyone, especially NJ-IRT members, for offering this outstanding introduction to the skill sets required to effect a successful search and rescue in the cave environment. I can highly recommend this course to experienced cavers and novices alike. It was both mentally and physically challenging, but highly rewarding.

As a novice caver myself, my interest grew from having been caught in a pretty tight squeeze, on exiting, back in Knox cave just forward of the 'football room'. Taking a pause from struggling, huffing and puffing, I got to thinking about "What if I'm really stuck?" Being pretty deep into the cave, by my novice standards, it also occurred to me how even a minor injury like a sprained or fractured ankle, could present severe difficulties in exiting. (I gave a good exhale and popped myself through. Had a sore sternum for a week or two!) "Surely these things happen" I thought. "How do they get victims out?"

Turns out, not easily. But the variety of skills and the degree of organization required to effect a rescue are both daunting and awe inspiring. This short weekend class is designed only to raise awareness about what is involved in these situations, to impress upon participants the vigilance and care required to avoid these scenarios, and to prepare students to have a greater understanding of how these events unfold should they ever be involved in a rescue either as a patient or a volunteer.

The very ambitious course curriculum covers everything from organizational structure (National Incident Management System - NIMS), setting up of various communication systems, 'packaging' a patient for transport, litter handling skills, medical considerations peculiar to the cave environment, documentation, search parameter considerations, entrance control, all the many specialized rescue techniques that might need to be called upon such as high-angle rigging, micro-blasting, crack and crevice teams, etc. The scope of the course was all encompassing, but because of time constraints was only a glimpse into the variety of skills that might be brought to bear in a real rescue.

First day started with a daunting classroom presentation. At least a hundred pages of printed hand-outs covering the material detailed above plus lots of links to websites for further information. Instructors gave very concise presentations and allowed for considerable Q & A. The afternoon was spent learning and practicing a variety of litter handling techniques (with names like 'the snake', 'the turtle', 'the centipede', etc) over an obstacle course set up to challenge our problem solving abilities. Teamwork was key in deciding how and when to employ the various techniques. We managed not to seriously damage any of our patients or ourselves.

Day Two was the mock scenario where we got a report of four people having gone missing in a cave. We were required to report, check in, be assigned to teams, and carry out our tasks to assist in the search and rescue. The mock was conducted in Leigh Cave near Clinton, NY. Good bit of detective work combined with sending in the Initial Response Teams to conduct a sweep search. It was truly amazing how much organization and manpower is required to make this happen.

While other participants in the course rotated through various positions and tasks, I was assigned to one of the IRT teams. We found a victim, male, alive but minimally responsive to verbal commands, on a tight ledge, presenting feet first. Each team had a 'medical' personnel member culled from whatever skill levels existed among the volunteer responders. Could be anything from CPR/First Aid, Wildlife Emergency First Responder, EMT, etc. Our patient was deemed to be mildly hypothermic, perhaps still under the influence of intoxicants, but otherwise not presenting any trauma injuries.

A second victim was located, lost but verbally responsive though vague and confused.

Another patient was located, female, w/ possible fractured pelvis, along w/ leg and head injuries sustained in apparently falling down a pit. She presented in a very difficult location on a ledge where there was not sufficient room to pass her. The team that attended her was able to find a bypass that allowed rescuers to get access to her head to further evaluate her, offer first aid and assist in 'packaging' her for transport. She was wrangled to the surface in a litter.

The fourth reported missing person was determined to have exited the cave before the search was initiated.

Our patient was shivering, 'vomiting', and minimally cooperative. We provided hydration, food and warming by redressing him in rescuers clothing and taping heat packs to his armpits between layers of dry clothing. Our 'medic' monitored his recovery and we basically man-handled him through the cracks and turns as required with minimal cooperation from the patient. Verbal and hands on contact was continuously maintained as we encouraged, cajoled and demanded that he assist in his exit.

Throughout the exercise, "guardian angels" were present in the cave. They are there to assure the safety of all participants. At this introductory level they are also free to dispense advice and suggestions at their discretion to facilitate the rescue. Our 'angel' was particularly helpful in advising on the finer points of hypothermia. We got our 'patient' to the bottom of a pit just before the exit. Here a double belay was rigged as safety lines for the patient and an IRT member accompanying him in the climb out of the pit.

I am happy to report no fatalities to victims and no injuries to rescuers. But it was a hell of a workout!

If this sort of thing interests you, take this course when it comes around again. To actually become a working volunteer on a rescue team requires significantly more advanced training. The first step is a week long training course called Level One, offered under the auspices of the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) who also set the curriculum for this Orientation course. Level Two continues the development of skill sets while Level Three concentrates on the specialty skills that exist as subsets. Beyond that is Instructor Training.

There is a Level One Cave Rescue course tentatively scheduled to be held in NY next year and I am looking forward to participating. Hope to see some fellow Met Grotto members there!

Stay safe...

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