Canadian Firefighter Magazine

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Training Connections: Part 2

Don’t throw away your rope rescue training

July 2, 2021
By Steve Piluso

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Training in a wide variety of skills and disciplines gives us not only additional skills, but makes us think differently, making connections we otherwise wouldn’t, and can enable us to come up with creative solutions to problems that we face every day. Photo: Swift Response

Editor’s Note: Training Connections is a three-part series discussing training across disciplines and how to train and apply your training in a holistic way.

In preparing to be hired as a firefighter, many candidates spend time, money and effort on rescue training. Be it ice water, rope, or confined space rescue, these are skills that, once you’re hired, you may or may not continue training in or using on a regular basis. Some of the skills you learned in your rescue training, although valuable, may end up being put on the shelf. I am a strong believer that every training you do should build on the training and experiences that you have, and that everything you learn can be used to make you better at what you do in a more holistic way. Training in a wide variety of skills and disciplines gives us not only additional skills, but makes us think differently, making connections we otherwise wouldn’t, and can enable us to come up with creative solutions to problems that we face every day.   

Whether you work for a large department and specialize in one area, or you work in a small department and wear many hats, keep those skills fresh, because they can be applied to everything you do. 

In this article we are going to look at two examples of where the skills from rope rescue training can be applied to other areas of fire fighting, and I will give suggestions on how to keep those skills sharp even if you aren’t formally training in them. 

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Scenario 1: Applying what we know about Crush Syndrome to a welfare check
You are responding to a request for a welfare check on an elderly person, whose family hasn’t been able to get in touch with them for a day. You arrive at their building and enter to find that they are conscious and responsive, laying on the floor in the kitchen. From an initial assessment it seems that they twisted, fell, and were unable to get up. They have been lying on their side since they fell the afternoon before, with their leg pinched beneath them, and they are experiencing a lot of pain in their hip. 

What would you do in this situation?
Without training, a person like a friend or family member may try to help them to stand up, or help them into a more comfortable position. We know from our medical training that moving a person before understanding what’s going on is not the right first reaction. Furthermore, if we draw from our rope rescue training, we can consider that this is a similar pathology to suspension trauma, where part of a climber’s body (usually their legs) has restricted returning blood flow (venous return) due to them being unconscious in their harness. Outside of rope rescue, we call this restriction of returning blood flow due to a physical force or positioning Crush Syndrome. 

Crush Syndrome is a medical condition characterized by hypovolemic shock, kidney failure and life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. This can occur when a portion of the body (usually a limb) is trapped for an extended period of time. Although Crush Syndrome is often thought of as resulting from a large crushing force like that of a fallen structure, we have learned from our rope rescue training that the force required to cause Crush Syndrome needs to only be enough to restrict the returning blood flow from the area. It can also be caused by a fall like the one described in the case study, or from the use of a tourniquet. In these situations,  we need to be aware of the possibility of Crush Syndrome and treat accordingly. If the affected body part is released without advanced medical protocols being applied (such as IV therapy), the result can be immediately life threatening.

Scenario 2: Firefighter rescue using mechanical advantage
You are engaged in a house fire and one of your colleagues is in the basement of the home when the basement stairs collapse. Without another way to easily exit the basement, it’s decided to pull them up through a safe opening to the main floor.  

What would you do in this situation?
Drawing from your rope rescue techniques, you can apply the same principles of mechanical advantage to assist in the rescue of a firefighter. You may not have the rope and the pulleys that you would have when doing a planned rope rescue, but you have other tools like a hose, pry bars and your axe. Throwing something down for your colleague to climb or to hold on to be pulled back up could work, with a lot of effort. How can we use mechanical advantage to make it easier for the person at the bottom and the people at the top? Let’s do a quick review of the fundamental principles of mechanical advantage that we learned as part of rope rescue. 

These are the principles of mechanical advantage. A pulley system splits force (shares the force to either side of the pulley). A ramp trades distance for effort. A lever lessens force required to move an object

Here’s the 1 to 1 system example of tossing down a rope/hose: 

  • Rope/hose through opening
  • Person at bottom grabbing the end
  • Downside: Much force is required to haul the person back up, and for them to climb or hold on

Here’s what it could look like using a fast 2 to 1 system:

  • End of rope/hose secured somewhere past the opening
  • Create a bend that is then dropped down into the opening
  • Person at the bottom grabs on, one arm and leg over the bend
  • Benefit: Half the amount of force is required to haul the person back up.  This option also helps if the person is injured and has difficulty climbing

The same concept we apply here can be used on a horizontal plane to drag a heavy person/object. When we get comfortable with the concepts from our rope rescue training, we start to think creatively about how these principles can be used without high efficiency pulley and static rope systems. 

How to keep our rope rescue skills sharp
I have to admit that it is hard to train in every skill as regularly as we may like, but there are ways that we can keep our skills sharp by bringing the thought process and principles we have learned into our everyday life. My most common use of my rope rescue training is moving heavy objects around the Swift Response back shop. This includes hoisting a kayak to the ceiling for storage and moving a 500-pound tire.

The Challenge: Challenge yourself to use these principles the next time you have something heavy or awkward to move. Instead of asking friends or colleagues for the muscle power to help pick up and move something, engage your skills and knowledge of mechanical advantage, find a creative solution, and have them watch in awe as you safely and efficiently move it yourself (or with minimal help).

If you take on this challenge, I would love to hear about it! Share with us on Instagram @Swift_Response. 


Steve Piluso is an experienced EMRI, AEMCA, military veteran, and multidisciplinary technical rescue instructor. He is the owner and operator of Swift Response. Contact Steve: Steve@SwiftResponse.ca or visit swiftresponse.ca.


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