ETCC Aerial Rescue 2017

Aerial Rescue scenarios at tree climbing competitions are something that interest me.

They offer a unique opportunity to come up with a scenario which reflects a current cluster of incidents, a high-profile accident which recently happened or new tools or technique being introduced to the industry – or mix of the above.

For this year’s ETCC we decided to focus on a scenario involving power lines, after having showcased a wide range of incidents over the past years including a climber trapped under a taught rigging system, suspended under a failed anchor point limb, on a pole on spikes or on an access line.

I am convinced that it is important to evolve a story line which is coherent and logical, rather than play acting and relying upon supposition. This starts with your scenario, is reflected in the set-up, as well as how you present it to the climbers. Ultimately it is a story you are telling, that they then pick up and continue, interpreting it the way they view as appropriate. Add to this, of course, the tight time frame in which the rescue has to be performed on the day.

Further, I am a firm believer in investing time and effort in building the scenario. For Deventer, for instance, Eddy milled two trees he felled into six meter poles for us. Nike lifted four ceramic insulators off his neighbour, Wolter scored another two off eBay. I made up stencils to put the voltage and service number of the grid operator on the poles. Thanks to you guys, Nike, Eddy and Wolter, for being patient and for bearing with me…

Next we worked with the crew running the event to make sure we were clear on how we were going present it. The story line went something like this: You have work planned on this oak tree, in whose vicinity there is a power line. You spoke to the grid operator who came round and had a look and declared the distance to be sufficient for the work to be safely performed, so long as the one meter safety distance is guaranteed. All of this is on your risk assessment sheet. Cut to the incident… your work mate has injured himself, a handsaw injury to the left upper arm, and is now suspended unresponsive above the 1kV power line.

The reason we decided to go with the climber being unresponsive/ unconscious, was that we wanted to avoid a climber on the ground saying if the scenario envisaged a responsive casualty, right, he is responsive, so there is not immediate urgency, I will call the grid operator and get them to shut down the line – to only then go and rescue the injured climber. Which you cannot really fault, but is hard to score. With an unconscious climber, however, the situation changes, this is now essentially a crash rescue – provided you can ensure you own safety, i.e. verify there is not contact between the lines and any part of the tree or the climber, and whether you have your one meter safety distance. This was possible in this case.

What was highly interesting during set up was how the position we initially set the dummy in – just shy of the line on the side of the tree – allowed for a rescue within a two to three minutes. Obviously this was too easy. So we moved him to the far side of the lines, with his climbing line also over the far side. This made for a distance of maybe one meter further away from the tree, yet this rescue was now practically not feasible within the time frame and keeping one meter distance to the line. So we ended up positioning the dummy half way between the two positions, this made it hard, yet feasible. What I took away from this was how a meter difference in the position the casualty is suspend in can make a difference between life and death.

The other insight I took away has to do with a mantra I have regarding always approaching the casualty from above with an efficient anchor point. In this specific instance however, it actually transpired that a flatter, more aggressive approach angle proved more efficient to allow the climber to tow the casualty out of the danger zone.

Finally, during the climbers’ meeting on Sunday after the comp there was debate about when to address the handsaw injury. You can argue this either way, depending on how you assess the injury. If you estimate it to be potentially life threatening, then you might decided to apply a pressure bandage there and then. However, the fact that you are in an immediate danger zone, suspended above a 1kV line, indicates a degree of urgency to get the climber into a safe area before taking any further steps.

All of the above are part of building a story. I find this really interesting, as it allows you to gain insights with other arborists in a way you would normally not be able to. After all, when do you get the opportunity to see fifty people performing the same rescue?

An important part of the story which aerial rescue tells is the conclusion, which happens during the climbers’ meeting on Sunday. I have found this session really helpful in understanding how we can improve, but also to debrief on the details of the scenario, what different views were there on how this scenario should have been tackled and what was the rationale? I certainly learnt something about working around electricity during this year’s ETCC. And what a great conclusion to an event, when you leave it knowing more than when you arrived?

Let’s make sure we do not sell ourselves short with unwieldy, illogical aerial rescue scenarios, let’s use our creativity and imagination to come up with something meaningful! My rule of thumb tends to be that if looking at the finalised set-up, just before climbers’ walk-through, gives me that sense of unease by hitting uncomfortably close to the mark, then I think we have succeeded in striking the right balance.

Give it some depth.