Vertical rescue is a critical skill in the Department of Fire and Emergency Services arsenal and is commonly performed by career personnel and volunteers across the State, including State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers. As it involves rescuing people who are trapped or injured, often in challenging environments such as cliffs and gorges, it is a task that comes with substantial risk and requires a high degree of operator training.
With these skills in solid demand in the Midwest Gascoyne, a three day Single Rope Rescue (SRR) course was recently held in Kalbarri and was attended by 23 students from Kalbarri, Useless Loop, Carnarvon, Geraldton and Eneabba, along with instructors and assistants.
Kalbarri SES Unit Deputy Manager and Operations Officer Mac Holt said the course teaches volunteers how to abseil and climb ropes, as well as how to rescue trapped people and casualties in a range of environments.
“With every search that the Kalbarri SES Unit undertakes in the National Park gorges, coastal cliffs, or inland old mining areas, it could potentially involve the need for vertical rescue,” Mac said.
“We have instances such as people experiencing a gear jam when they’re on a commercial abseiling tour or half way down a gorge.
“In these cases the rescue is undertaken by abseiling down to the person and attaching them to your own harness and line so you can bring them safely to the ground.”
Mac said it takes a high degree of competency to perform a safe and successful vertical rescue.
“To prepare volunteers for these types of scenarios the course involves a range of skills including abseiling, ascending, crossing over knots in a rope, changing over to a different rope, and rescuing another person who requires assistance.
“This entails descending on a separate rope, hooking up the ‘stranded climber’ to themselves, un-hooking them from their jammed rope and descending to the bottom with them in tow.
“The process can be somewhat daunting for first time volunteer students, which is why we have a mandatory safety officer in attendance at all times.
“The region also utilises a purpose built climbing tower in Kalbarri, where instructors can closely monitor the progression of students.
Kalbarri SES volunteer Chris McConnell said he participated in a course in 2015 but was not fully prepared for the three days of intense training, which resulted in him not obtaining the competency.
“Our Team Leader in Vertical Rescue Steve Duncan then offered his spare time to help me improve my knowledge and techniques, and then deemed me to be competent,” Chris said.
“However, when I heard the formal course was running again I wanted retake it and prove to myself and my peers that I was able to successfully complete it.
“I was personally much better prepared the second time around as I’d had the realisation of what a serious business it is to be hanging off a rope, potentially saving someone’s life.
“As a result, I became officially competent and was even told by the assessors that I was the ‘Dux’ of the course – I’m now fully confident in my ability to respond professionally to a real life vertical rescue emergency.
“It has given me an opportunity for self-growth and my next goal is to become competent in the higher level vertical rope courses.”
A full suite of vertical rescue courses are held each year in Kalbarri due to the diversity of testing sites available there. Courses include SRR, Rope Rescue Systems, and Advanced Vertical Rescue, as well as the Vertical Rescue Team Leader course which has been attended by trainee team leaders from every region in WA.
There were 19 vertical rescues undertaken across WA in 2015 by fire and emergency services personnel and volunteers. Between 2011 and 2015 the Kalbarri SES Unit was deployed 13 times for search and rescue incidents where vertical rescue capability may have been required.