Tuesday, October 09, 2007

[trip] NCRC Orientation to Cave Rescue Class

This weekend I attended the Orientation to Cave Rescue class which was offered by the Eastern Region of the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) at Laurel Caverns, PA.

We met at 8:00AM on Saturday morning at Laurel Caverns. The morning was spent in a classroom over a powerpoint presentation on the basics of cave rescue - command hierarchy, responsibilities, goals, etc. Several search-and-rescue teams were conducting a mock-search during our training. After a brief non-vegetarian lunch, we broke out into smaller groups and did some more hands-on training. One session showed us how to use military field telephones (fun!); one gave an extremely high-level wilderness first-aid lesson - too basic to help those with actual EMS training, too vague to help those without. A third session taught us how to package a patient in a SKED and a Ferno stretcher. We had a nice vegetarian dinner, then broke into two teams and did a rescue "obstacle course", where we would package a patient and then maneuver them (gently!) over, under, around, and through all sorts of constrictions, drop-offs, tunnels, and other brutal obstacles that simulated cave terrain. This was a lot of fun, but was extremely exhausting after 2.5 hours. We finished up around 8:00PM.

Again, we met at 8:00AM at Laurel Caverns, but Sunday was much different than the previous day's course. We arrived and were incorporated into the previous day's mock-search, which had now turned into a mock-rescue. In conjunction with the search-and-rescue teams, we reported to Barton Cave, where three cavers were suspected as being "lost". Since I am familiar with Barton, I was put on the initial search team as a guide. Our team went in to the back of the cave, where we quickly found the first "lost" patient (who really enjoyed playing the part of a lost old caver). After getting our patient out, we were sent back in to help extract an injured patient who was currently being packaged. It took about 4 hours to extract him, even though he was only a few hundred feet from the cave entrance, and it looked like quite an unpleasant ride.

I learned a great deal about how cave rescues operate and about how I can most effectively and efficiently help out. The most striking lesson of the weekend is how long it takes and how much effort is involved in extracting an injured caver - it will make me re-evaluate the sorts of risks that I take underground for sure! I had a great time taking the course, and I highly recommend it to all cavers.

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