Blog - The Raven Speaks

2016: ITRS and IAWRP Review

Instructor professional development contributes to Raven's ability to stay at the cutting edge.  Every year, our Technical Rope and Swiftwater instructors attend industry-leading conferences, which sharpen their mastery of their instructional disciplines. 

Here are their reviews from this year's leading conferences.


International Association of Water Rescue Professionals

2016 Annual Conference, attended by Instructor Trainer Craig Gerrard:


"This was the fourth year of this conference, and it continues to grow in size and depth. The conference is an excellent avenue for rescuers from around the world to gather and be with likeminded professionals, sharing stories and techniques.

I find myself leaving the conference every year craving more. To build on last year's momentum, this year offered attendees a couple of pre-conference certified courses, delivered by different providers.

One pre-conference course was a motorized boat operator course, taught by a company out of North Carolina - Rescue Instructors Group. Due to hurricane Matthew's havoc, this group's instructors, and their affiliated teams, conducted over 900 water rescues in a 10 day period immediately after the conference.  Needless to say, the skills taught during this pre-conference course were delivered by expert technicians whose practices are tried and tested.

Another pre-conference course was a moving water PWC rescue course. This was taught by Tony Hargett, and his company Aqua7.

After the workshops wrapped up, the conference itself began.  Lecture topics ranged from operational to command based, and included swiftwater strategies, hazmat problems, legal implication of water rescues, revamping existing water rescue teams, and rescuing pinned victims.

There were hands-on Hot Sessions to get attendees moving. This year there were two tracks: first for the practicing rescuers, and the other for command staff. About 100 participants were involved in the hot sessions, and rotated through various stations every hour and a half.  Stations included:

  • Boat emergency procedures: flips, paddle, postioning and victim recovery
  • Car in roadway - water at door level
  • Carlson board with fins and tethered swim with tension parallel

During the evening of the first night, we hosted the Higgins and Langley Memorial awards.  After a dinner and a great guest speaker presentation from retired US Coastguard member Mario Vittone, (our instructors and students know this guy from the cold water boot camp video), awards were presented, including the Swiftwater Rescue Incidents awards, Program Development award, and Lifetime Achievement award.

I'm looking forward to attending next year!"


International Technical Rescue Symposium

Attended by Technical Rope Rescue instructor Frank Swanson and Instructor Trainer Chad Guenter


"Below is a summary of just a few of the papers presented during the conference.  Full papers can be viewed here on the ITRS website.

Dual Capability of Two Tensioned Rope System (DCTTRS)
Paper #3 presented further studies on DCTTRS. Test performed over sharp edges, falling objects, manual override of self braking devices (human factor) and maximum arrest forces. All tests performed with 11mm rope with a 200kg load, with belay competence drop test method (1m drop on 3 m of 11mm kernmantle rope).


  • Use of DCTTRS over DMDB systems
  • Rope tailing guarding against Human factor
  • All systems must be force limiting (6-12kn) and have minimum braking strength of 20kn. 
  • SSSF 10:1 approach no longer in use
  • Edge transitions executed with both ropes under tension (no evidence showed need/difference for un-tentioned rope in that operation.
  • Rock falling was not found to be an influencing factor in deciding between using tensioned or in-tensioned ropes
  • When using HD both ropes will elevated and lowered once HD is no longer needed
  • Static ropes are preferred over Low stretch linked with mitigating risks stopping distances
  • Command and comms structure/protocols put in place a greater emphasis on managing human factor risks.

A Review of Knot Strength

Paper #10 was an interesting collection of past research and testing data. More research has to be done with closer attention to speed of pull test, static and dynamic, as well as inch/sec etc... but the outcome was to realize that there is a RANGE for knot strength. It is more statistically correct to refer to the strength as "range" as opposed to using a number like "73%."

Line of Duty (LOD) Deaths While Training in Rope Rescue and Rapelling
Paper #11 presented "The Focus 5 list" to combat LOD Deaths.

  • Blindness: Failure to see something diferent; we look, but fail to see; or, bias (spend more time with the rookie, Mike should be ok cause he's senior and he knows his stuff!)
  • Communication: Safety briefing and operation verbal command
  • Equipment: Intent, human error 
  • Safety: Safety checks, roles, safety officer
  • Training: Training and drills - knowing the difference. Training is a formal lesson, whereas a drill is training on skill mastered. 

The presenter's closing words were stay safe - thinking outside the box is encouraged, but just stand in the box while you're doing it. 

Disinfectants and Detergent Affects On Rope
Paper #13 used strands from a rope core for lab-like testing. Stands were submerged in liquid for 15 mins, double-rinsed, and dried 12 hrs before pull test. Stats were collected. Tests showed increase in strength, but decrease in elasticity. One product revealed decrease in both - Exelweiss rope cleaning product."


"Having been to ITRS before, I knew what I was getting myself into.  8 to 5 of sitting in a big conference room and listening to people talk.  Not quite the description that gets people fired up or lining up at the door to attend, but I have to say, I really enjoy it!

In rescue there’s many ways to do things. In fact, we say this in all of our power points. As Instructors, IC’s or as team members I’m willing to bet we’ve all had a conversation on how to deliver a subject, do a task, present a gadget or have an opinion that's different than someone else (rescue related of course). To further this, there isn’t a lot of testing that backs up many points in rescue. A lot of it comes from “Well, we’ve done this (insert skill here) like this 1000’s of times before and nothing has every happened”, There’s theory that supports what we do and in theory almost everything will work…..OR the testing available has a small sample size so therefore somewhat inconclusive but something to go on OR the testing that is there is good, with a decent amount of sample sizes and a few variables captured but another batch of testing shows results in support of another technique (i.e.; DCTTRS or Dual Capability Two Tension Rope Systems vs. DMDB Dedicated Main - Dedicated Belay, the great Prussik debate or 10:1 vs Force Limiting Systems).

Largely, these are the discussion topics at ITRS, and Frank has done a really good job of capturing that.  The “nuts and bolts” of rigging, building stuff and playing with all the gear is why a lot of us love this job. But a large part of what we do is risk management and decision making. This, far before we even touch the gear.  

With this in mind, I’d like to review with you a facet of ITRS I found really interesting: the cognitive biases in our decision making and tasking students or rescuers, keeping in mind our biological limitations on our thought processes."

... we will be publishing Chad's reviews in a sequel to this article!


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Dorin Constantin, Firefighter (2014 Raven Flood Legacy Bursary Recipient)
High River Fire Department

The SRT1 course was fantastic, and the instructors were amazing! Again, thank you for the bursary you offered me.


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