A rescue by the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District of Breckenridge, Colo., proves that you may need to employ rope rescue techniques in the most unexpected places.
On Jan. 31 at 1511 HRS, the Summit County Dispatch center received a 9-1-1 call reporting that a 21-year-old male had fallen down an elevator shaft in a house. The caller said the patient was unconscious and shaking.
At 1514 HRS, the Red, White & Blue Fire District dispatched units from all three Breckenridge stations: Squad 6 (a non-transporting EMS unit) with a paramedic and EMT aboard, Engine 7 with three persons aboard, Tower 4 (a technical rescue unit with a 100' platform) and Battalion 6.
Photos Courtesy Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District
At 1519 HRS, Engine 7 arrived on scene—a four-level, single-family residence located on a crest on the west side of the street with a steep slope. The roads were snow-packed with some snow still falling. The house was undergoing a full renovation and had been completely gutted. All interior stairs had been removed, so the only access to the patient was via a series of ladders.
Firefighters found the patient at the bottom of an elevator shaft in a shallow pit about 4 feet below the house’s bottom floor. He first appeared to be at a low level of consciousness, but still somewhat combative and trying to crawl out of the shallow pit. His co-workers told responders that the victim had fallen from the second level, about a 20-foot drop.
EMS personnel provided the patient with oxygen, full spinal precautions and because there was no heat in the house, a warming blanket. Knowing that the extrication would be more involved than just a simple patient carry-out, they also packaged him in a Sked litter.
To get to the ambulance parked at street level, the rescuers would need to extricate the patient upward about 150 feet, with a portion of that requiring a rope haul of about 50 feet. This would be challenging since there were no stairways in the structure. They first considered a vertical lift up the elevator shaft, but they couldn’t find suitable anchors for a raising system. They ultimately concluded that the best extrication strategy would be to take him out the Charlie side (rear of the house) through a sliding door. But they would still end up down-slope of the roadway and below a retaining wall.
Tower 4 was positioned in the driveway. Rescuers set up an anchor on each of the Class 2 receiver hitches down near the wheel. They rigged a 3:1 mechanical advantage (“Z-rig”) hauling system, with a high-point change-of-direction pulley on Tower 4’s platform. They also rigged a belay system using Prusiks and a Tuber belay device, along with a high-point change-of-direction on the platform. Both the haul line and belay line were attached to the head of the Sked. Two litter tenders accompanied the litter as it slid across the deep snow.
The last 15 feet to the roadway was up a retaining wall and then a short slope of about 75 degrees, so rescuers positioned themselves at the top and bottom of the wall to help guide the Sked.
Once the patient was on the roadway, they unhooked the rope lines, and with the patient still in the Sked, they placed him onto the ambulance gurney.
Summit County Ambulance Service transported him by ground to Summit Medical Center in Frisco. From there the patient was transported by helicopter to Denver for additional treatment.
The units cleared the scene by 1609 HRS.
Sources: Red, White and Blue Fire District Battalion Chief Paul Kuhn and Captain Ryan Roberts provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from an account of the incident in the Summit Daily News.
Lessons Learned/Lessons Reinforced:
To prepare for unexpected situations, train often for low-volume/high-risk scenarios. As incident commander or officer/driver, before you arrive on scene, you should think about apparatus positioning, especially for those larger pieces of apparatus. This critical decision can help you avoid having to reposition equipment later. Also, be very familiar with all of the tools on your apparatus. Have a back-up plan as well as a back-up to the back-up plan.
Battalion Chief Paul Kuhn said that the Red, White & Blue firefighters trained for this type of incident, a low-angle rescue situation, using the same equipment just one day before this rescue.
Rescue Editor Tom Vines is the co-author of “High Angle Rescue Techniques” and “Confined Space and Structural Rope Rescue.” He operates a rope-rescue consulting group in Red Lodge, Mont.
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