Corner Brook firefighters — and one reporter — train in rope rescue techniques
CORNER BROOK It may not have been quite the same as dangling dozens of metres above the Corner Brook Stream gorge, but even hanging just a few metres above the Corner Brook Fire Department parking lot requires faith.
That was the feeling this reporter got as I was harnessed up and lifted off the ground by a series of ropes and pulleys operated by members of the fire department during their high-angle rope rescue training session Wednesday.
The firefighters invited the media along as they practised their technique of lowering one another from the roof of the station to the parking lot below and then back up again.
Every member of all four platoons at the fire hall are currently being trained how to use the specialized equipment in case they ever get a call for which they need it. The training would come in handy if someone has fallen over a steep cliff side, down a deep hole or maybe finds themselves stranded on malfunctioning harness equipment while working on the side of a building.
Even being simply lifted from the ground to just above the open bay doors of the fire station has hazards to be aware of. The person being lifted should avoid grasping and pulling on the ropes being used to lift and lower since not everyone is always in visual contact and any unexpected tightening of the rope may send an inaccurate signal to one of the team.
Standing parallel to the ground with my feet planted on the building just above the open doors, I needed to wait for my head to be lowered back before I could be lowered back down.
Once my upper body was safely below the level of the top of the doors, I could let my feet leave the side of the building. That way, when my body weight swung back in towards the building, I would not bring up on the brick wall of the station.
The person being hoisted isn’t totally at the whim of the other members of the crew. From watching the firefighters do the full lowering and lifting procedures, the person lifted does call out when one of the ropes fastened to them should be tightened or loosened.
“Not all of the guys need to be the people that will have to go over the side of a building or cliff,” explained Geoff Tulk, the department’s captain of training. “For example, there is a safety officer who has to check all the knots, all the carabineers and all the equipment before anyone is allowed to actually proceed over a cliff or a building and put themselves in danger.”
Some of the fire department members will receive advanced rope rescue training, in addition to the fundamentals of using the main apparatus. Those members will learn how to lower a stretcher, load a victim onto it and raise it back to safety.
The fire department has done some high-angle rope rescue training before, including practising the skills by dropping over the cliffs at the Capt. James Cook National Historic Site several years ago. Tulk said the plan now is to have everyone do five days of training, including one out in the field, this fall and to have everyone do two-day refresher courses annually in the years to come.
The training out in the field is being planned to take place in the industrial setting of the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper property and an outdoor session on the steep Corner Brook Stream gorge off Crocker’s Road. In fact, some platoons have already been to the gorge — which has a drop-off plunging about 60 metres to the rocky stream below — for training.
“This is something that you can practice and practice and practice and may never have to use it,” said Tulk. “But, in our field of work, we may have to use this five minutes from now.”