Rescue

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Double Rope Technique (DdRT) Rescue


(Several original members of the RTC community contributed to the creation of this work, including Abe Winters, Peter Jenkins, Tim Kovar, Bill Maher, Genevieve Summers, Tom Coffin and others. Revised and edited by Harv Teitelbaum)

Tree climbing, as an activity practiced aloft, will always involve a degree of risk and danger. Therefore, rescue readiness is a state every Facilitator, Instructor and lead climber must attain and practice. This includes having the appropriate skills, rescue equipment, and rescue plan. (For the purposes of this paper, we will refer to the rescue Facilitator as the “rescuer” and the client in need of assistance/rescue as the “climber”.)

I. Skills needed for Rescue Work

A Facilitator must be able to ascend a rope quickly to get a stranded climber out of the tree. To do that, the Facilitator must be in good physical condition and be proficient in rapid climbing, with or without ground assistance. The following rescue skills must be practiced and reviewed regularly with other qualified Facilitators or Instructors to maintain proficiency and speed so that a rescue can be performed safely and quickly.

Doubled Rope Technique (DdRT). This system of climbing is the backbone of climbing systems today. The self-belaying friction hitch allows the climber to ascend and descend without help from another person below. While not the fastest method of climbing, this system allows the climber to ascend and descend on one system, without having to change systems or equipment aloft. This simplifies rescue, a big asset during times of stress when every move and decision is critical.

CPR and First Aid Training. A person can die quickly due to blood loss or breathing failure. As a rule it is more important to bring the climber down before administering this kind of aid. CPR/first aid training teaches how to check for vitals signs of breathing and heart rate while aloft and also provide information to arriving paramedics. Once you have reached the ground you can administer these life saving techniques until paramedics arrive.

II. First Rule: Do not become a second victim. Analyze the situation and plan your response.

III. Rescue Styles

Rescues can be of two different styles, “ground” and “aerial” (sometimes called “soft” and “hard” rescues). Each style requires its own set of actions, but both require focus and quick attention. A climber is often in distress in either situation. A ground rescue involves only verbal communication to remedy the situation, while an aerial rescue requires the rescuer to go aloft and bring the climber down.

An aerial rescue is one of two types. One is the “non-critical aerial rescue” in which the situation, while possibly unpleasant, is not life threatening. A rescuer must go up to solve a problem such as releasing a jammed knot, or assist a climber in descent. A “critical aerial rescue” is needed when life is threatened. An example would be a climber losing consciousness while aloft.

IV. Ground Rescue

A ground rescue is a non life-threatening situation. In a ground rescue the climber is responsive. The climber can talk and communicate with those trying to help. Clear instruction from the ground to the climber aloft is the means used to facilitate the rescue. It does not require the rescuer to go up to bring the climber down: the climber is his/her own rescuer. Most problems are handled successfully from the ground.

Scenarios and Solutions for Ground Rescue

Indecision in the climber. Victim does not know what to do and is temporarily stuck. Talk the climber through the problem.

Climber fright. Victim freezes for any number of reasons, but often a sudden anxiety attack due to fear of heights. Talk the climber through his/her fear. Given some time to talk and remain on the rope, a climber may express the desire to continue to climb. In that case, assess the climber's mental/emotional state, confirm the decision to stay aloft with the climber, then support and assure the climber that you will be there if needed. Keep a close eye on the climber's progress, regularly verbally checking in and evaluating his/her response. 

The harness has slipped out of a comfortable position. Instruct climber how to make harness comfortable while on rope.

Jam in the Blake’s hitch. The climber’s friction hitch will not move. First provide belay from below, and then instruct student to pull down harder on the Blake’s hitch to get them started in their descent. Alternatively, instructions to loosen the hitch can be given.

Foot loop jam. Instruct the climber how to loosen the prusik hitch or remove the foot loop. (Always give adequate instructions for loosening, removing, or dropping the foot loop during the initial climb demonstration, and monitor descents to ensure prusik does not meet bottom of Blake's hitch.)

Bridge is too long. If climber can not reach the top of Blake's, standing/pulling down on the down rope by belayer can pull the climber up.

Climber cannot get off branch s/he is sitting on. First provide a belay, let them know you have them under control, then instruct to slide off the branch.

General Ground Rescue Procedures

Check the Scene. Is it safe? What else is going on around the climber?

Evaluate the Climber. Get the climber’s attention. Shake the down rope and call to him/her. Ask, “How are you doing?” or “Would you like to come down?”

Delegate. Calmly let other Facilitator(s) know you are taking charge of the situation so they can take charge of the other climbers and spectators. Get a volunteer to assist with the rescue if necessary. Take charge of the discussion. Too many people might be trying to solve the same problem at the same time, which creates confusion.

Ensure you can be Heard. Make sure all other climbers and spectators are quiet. Clear communication is key.

Reassure and Calm the Climber. Get him/her receptive to instruction.

Instruct. Tell climber what to do. Be gentle and patient. Remember that the climber could be emotionally upset. Clear thinking is not automatic during stress.

Focus the Climber on Descending. Focusing on technique often distracts a climber from feelings of anxiety. 

Reevaluate the Climber Once Down. Make sure the climber is taken care of emotionally.

Treat any of the Climber's Injuries if Necessary.

Acknowledge the Climber for her/his Efforts. Talk calmly and reassuringly. A climber will often feel embarrassed from the attention of the situation. It takes courage to manage one’s self aloft while under stress.

V. Aerial Rescue

An aerial rescue occurs when the Facilitator climbs to the climber to solve the problem or bring the climber to the ground.

Non-critical (not life threatening) Aerial Rescue scenarios:

1. Fright. A climber has frozen. A ground rescue with voice communication was first tried and failed.

2. Hair tangle. The climber’s hair has tangled in the climber’s knot and is out of reach of the climber. The rescuer must go up to provide help with the tangle. (Always utilize hair ties for climbers with long hair. Maintain a supply.)

3. Knot jam. The climber’s knot will not move up or down.

4. Knot jammed against branch

5. Debris in the eye

6. Hand injury such as rope friction burn. (Climbers should always use gloves. Maintain a supply.)

7. Unable to follow verbal commands.


Non-critical Aerial Rescue Procedures (Refer to Critical Aerial Procedures for details)

1. Check scene

2. Evaluate climber

3. Delegate

4. Ascend

5. Secure climber to rescuer

6. Attach running or oversized rescue carabineer

7. Reevaluate the climber

8. BACK check and rope management

9. Descend

10. Treat and reassure


Critical Aerial Rescue:

This is a life-threatening situation. In a critical aerial rescue the climber may or may not be conscious. An aerial rescue requires a climber to ascend to deal with the problem and bring the person down. Often the condition of the climber and extent of any injuries are unknown. The condition of the climber’s rope and harness could be in question. The person performing the rescue will have to take many factors into consideration to solve the problem and bring the climber down safely.

The rescue climber should be the one who can safely carry out the rescue in the least amount of time. This kind of rescue requires the utmost skill and speed.

A variety of techniques are used in critical aerial rescues. There is no one “right” way in an aerial rescue except getting the climber down as quickly and safely as possible. The ascending method of the rescue could vary: use the rescue line, climb the line next to climber, set a new line next to climber, or make a multiple pitch assent. As a last resort, the climber’s rope could be used to climb if it will not cause further injury or endanger the rescue climber.


Critical Aerial Rescue Scenarios:

Critical aerial rescues require direct action with skill, speed and safety. These incidents can be fatal if not handled properly and promptly.

1. The climber is unconscious. There is no way to know what has happened.

2. Allergic reaction to stinging insects. The rescuer going up must not be allergic to stings and must be properly protected from attack because the insects will still be present and stinging.

3. Asthma attack. Breathing will be hampered during an attack. Only the climber’s personal inhaler should be brought up.

4. Asphyxiation. A climber is either unconscious or semi-conscious. This can be a fatal incident if not handled quickly and correctly.

5. Other possibilities include: Choking, heart attack, stroke, hypoglycemia, shock, seizure, electrocution. 

Critical Aerial Rescue Procedure:

Call 911. Do this before starting to rescue a climber. If you do not know the condition of the climber, you will need paramedics waiting on the ground when your climber comes down. This will not only better serve the climber’s chance of recovery, but will help protect you legally.

Check the scene? Is it safe? Do not become the second victim.

Evaluate the climber. Try to get the climber's attention. Call up to the climber. Shake the climber's down rope. See if you can determine the nature of the situation from the climber's words or actions. Calmly assure the climber that help is on the way even if you believe the climber to be unconscious.

Delegate. Rescue can involve high degrees of emotion, which can hamper rescue attempts and sometimes cause bad decisions. What can other people contribute to the rescue? Get someone to assist the rescuer. Have someone looking out for arrival of medical help. Assign someone to manage other climbers in the tree. Get someone to manage the people on the ground. Reassure everyone the things are being taken care of. People with tasks to do are less likely to negatively intrude, interfere with the rescuer's actions, or become needing of attention themselves.

Ascend.

1. Decide which line and method you will use to safely and quickly reach the climber. You may have to quickly bring down another climber on the nearest rope.

2. Decide what you need to bring up with you.

3. Climb up to the climber. Use the safest and fasted method.

4. Use ground assist methods to speed the climb. The ground team could swing the rescuer over to the climber if necessary. A ground person could also help by pulling or standing down on the rescuer's down rope to assist ascent.

Secure climber to the rescuer with an oversized or running rescue carabineer (A heavy-duty carabiner affixed to an adjustable pick-off strap made out of sewn webbing or similar.) This makes sure the climber is kept aloft in the event of climbing rope or equipment failure and keeps climber close to rescuer.

Reevaluate. Check the scene and climber.

Check the climber’s vital signs. IF bleeding severely, apply a compress. Is the climber breathing? Bring the person down before administering CPR because of the difficulty of administering these techniques aloft.

BACK checks and rope management: check belt/harness, anchor, carabineers and knots. Are ropes where they need to be?

Descend with climber. Decide on the best method for getting you and the climber down safely. A variety of techniques might be used, including the following:

1. If the climber is conscious and able to assist after rescuer's arrival: Use one ground belayer for the rescuer. Enlist the aid of ground people to belay the rescuer based on weight. For the climber, use a stout belay such as a butt wrap or munter hitch for a heavier person aloft and a hand belay for light people aloft, as with a child.

2. If unconscious or unable to assist. Place an open, Fixé-type pulley over the top of the climber's Blake's. Clip in to the pulley with a carabiner attached to an adjustable rope or strap made of sewn webbing. The other end of the rope/strap should be affixed to the rescuer's saddle. Tighten till taut. Climber's system will descend when the rescuer descends on his/her own system. Support the climber’s head if possible. Avoid bumping the climber against branches and the trunk. The rescuer can wrap his or her legs around the climber to help control the climber’s body. Another rope might be attached to the climber so a ground assist person can help guide the person down safely by pulling into the desired path of travel.

• Position and Assess

1. Once on the ground, stabilize the head and keep it stable until medical people arrive.

2. If a spinal injury is suspected, lay the climber flat on the ground and do not move the climber until medical people say it is safe. If the climber vomits, gently "log roll" by supporting the neck and spine to keep head position neutral with body position while turning the victim onto his/her side.

3. In cases of intense nausea and/or vomiting where no spinal injury is suspected, turn the head to one side so vomit can drain.

4. Keep the climber warm and comfortable. Loosen tight clothing.

5. Do not give the climber anything to drink or eat, except in cases of confirmed hypoglycemia with prior approval of climber.

6. If paramedics are present, have them take over the care of the climber.

7. If paramedics have not arrived, assess the climber and take appropriate first aid action.


VI. Being Rescue Ready - The tree, rescuer, equipment, and emergency evacuation plan:

Every climbing site should have:

1. At least one rescue line in each climbing tree, to be placed high enough to access as many climbing stations as possible. It is recommended it be of a different color than other climbing lines. It is for Facilitators only. You may wish to call this the “Help Line” when initially explaining it to climbers to avoid undue anxiety.

2. Rescue ready Facilitator: must be wearing harness with small first aid kit, adjustable rope/strap, small pulley, and rescue biner.

3. First Aid Kits: There should be a large and small kit. The large kit must be visible and easily accessible on the ground. The small kit is worn on the Facilitator’s harness. The contents of the kit are personally designed to address the needs of the climb. These kits must be checked and restocked frequently.

4. Have an extra climbing line, throw weights, and throw lines on site; each should be stowed nearby and be ready for use in case a rescue line needs to be set quickly.

5. Scissors with blunt tips. You will use this tool to cut hair that might get caught in the climber’s knot while aloft.

6. Utility knife: This may be needed to cut a climber quickly out of their rope system. Also as a back-up for hair cutting.

7. Whistle. A whistle can be used to attract attention or signal people. Make sure it is attached to a reliable cord. Along with initial group instructions-demonstrations, detail your expectations of climbers to the whistle sound.

8. Phone: mobile and/or land line. You will need communication equipment to call 911 or designated Emergency Contact in the case of an incident.

9. Emergency evacuation plan in the event of severe weather, medical crisis, or other emergency.


REMEMBER

Plan ahead: Keep a folder or e-record at the site containing emergency procedures, phone numbers and contacts.

• Emergency Protocol: Have this discussion before each climb. Make sure you and your staff know what to do if an emergency occurs. Designate who will be the Rescue Ready Climber. Know the location of the emergency information.

Be aware of any climber's medical issues. If possible, keep a record of current climbers' medical issues in the emergency folder or e-file. 

Know the emergency agencies/numbers for your area. 

Where is the nearest landline phone or known adequate cellphone signal?

Access for emergency/medical personnel to the climbing site: have clear directions of how to get to your location, the nearest street address and staff phone numbers.

Know where the nearest ambulance/hospital is located.

Practice rescue at least once every six months and record it in a log. This should include discussions with other Facilitators on different scenarios. Imagine new and challenging situations and how you would respond. Be creative and imaginative. Continue discussions online with the tree climbing Facilitator/Instructor community. Join an umbrella organization such as the GOTC to remain in contact with other Facilitator/Instructors and to be notified of workshops and other training opportunities.

Practice speed climbing solo and/or with a partner.

• Stay in good physical, mental, and emotional condition.

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