Blog - The Raven Speaks

ITRS and IAWRP 2017

Attending the leading conferences in the rescue industry keeps our cadre of instructors at the cutting edge of their field.  This year, we again attended both IAWRP and ITRS, and are pleased to bring you summaries of both events.

International Association of Whitewater Rescue Professionals: Water Rescue Conference

With Raven Rescue instructor Craig Gerrard: 

It was a pleasure to attend this year's IAWRP conference in South Bend, Indiana.  

This year we once again had teams from all over the US as well as Canada and Australia.  We had some great presentations - one that was quite fascinating reviewed the Orville Dam breach in Northern California.  The hot sessions were a lot of fun this year, and featured everything from swimming, search techniques, and vehicles in water.

Eighty-eight people attended the practical "hot" sessions or workshops.  Twenty participants attended the command track, which focused on the organizational side of water-related incidents.  All this was happening as a big heat wave hit the area, with daytime temperatures over 30 degrees Celcius - we were working in water that was 25 degrees Celcius, which made for some hot and exhausted participants!

One of the best parts of this event is its venue.  South Bend is the home town of University of Norte Dame and the hotel, conference centre, river, and brew pub are all within a few minutes' walk. 

Definitely looking forward to heading back next year!

International Technical Rescue Symposium

With Raven Rescue instructor Garth Lemke:

ITRS is a unique opportunity to interact with SAR experts from around the world with 200 attendants representing all facets of the rescue industry. The reports presented at the event can be found here online. The following are three highlights from the event.

Accidents in Helicopter Rescues

The report on Accidents in Helicopter Rescues highlights incidents over a number of years. It concludes that statistically, rescuers die in helicopter accidents more than all other rescue hazards combined. What really hit home for me was a near miss for my colleagues, who were working to the South of Jasper in Kananaskis Park in June 2017. They were involved in a helicopter long-line sling rescue off Mount Yamnuska and there was a rotor strike on the rock face with a rescuer on the line. The pilot managed to safely fly, land the rescuer who cut himself from the system at that point, and then land the helicopter. He reported the helicopter shook so badly he could not read the instruments and there was significant damage to 30 cm of the outer edge of the main rotor.    

Analysis of a Highline System Failure During a Rescue

The Analysis of a Highline System Failure During a Rescue looked at an incident where the track line failed resulting in the attendant and stretchered patient falling to the ground. The rescuer was injured and resuscitation efforts were terminated. The rescuer walked out with deep tissue bruising as a tree broke his fall.   At the time of the accident, the patient, who had been underwater for three minutes, had received 30 minutes of CPR and had an auto CPR device installed.  Following the fall, the patient was declared deceased and the medical equipment was damaged during the incident.  During a re-creation, the track line failure was replicated twice. The investigation found several contributing factors, some of which include:

  • There was a simpler lower risk evacuation method available;  
  • The bottom end of the track line was an unpadded high-strength tie off anchor around a large sharp edged rectangular chert boulder causing a tight bend in a highly tensioned rope. The tight bend over a sharp edge resulted in approximately 80% loss in strength as this technique is intended for round objects. The pictures revealed an angle of 162 degrees at the carriage meaning the rope was very tight;
  • The track line tensioning had 11 people pulling on a 3:1 essentially tripling the rule of 12 for safely tensioning a highline;
  • The Incident Commander moments before gave instructions to “make it banjo tight”, and then recalls thinking it “doesn’t feel right” but did not stop because he was in the moment and the patient was moving;
  • The report highlights other lessons taught.







This litter bridle system was part of a demonstration put together by the Alpine Rescue Team from Evergreen, Colorado.  Essentially, this is the way they connect the litter to a twin tension rope system during a high angle rescue.  The main benefit of this rig is that you can more easily control the orientation of the litter. They also run this with two attendants where most teams only run with one.  The Evergreen Alpine Rescue Team provided a bbq, a number of demonstrations of the systems they use, and they even brought in their air ambulance for a tour. 


Review of Friction Hitch Testing

The Review of Friction Hitch Testing compiled the available research and provided a meta-analysis. It is commonly taught that when using prusiks in belay or tensioning applications i.e. highlines, tandem prusik belay, etc. that a single prusik will slip at ~5kN. Adding another increases this by ~5kN, and if the prusiks slip, they provide a force limiter and indication that forces are getting too high. This paper concludes that this is too unreliable. Tandem prusiks are still suitable for belay (with good technique) but shouldn’t be considered a force limiter or indicator. The bottom line is that slipping, prusik hitch breaking, and rope damage/failure have overlapping values. There are too many variables with different rope and prusik combinations available, plus environmental and human factors. The take home is that you don’t know. Have you tested the exact performance characteristics of your rope and prusik combination? Food for thought.

 As always, ITRS is a great opportunity to network with the very best in the technical rope world, exchange ideas, make new friends, and connect with equipment manufacturers. 



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Steve McKinlay
Firefighter Candidate

My instructor Kit was a complete professional with his subject. He was personable and encouraged questions - he also constantly asked questions to check for understanding. There was no time spent standing around, and we always knew what our goals were during scenarios. I had a fun experience during my Operations ropes course, and Kit heightened my desire to be a fire fighter.


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