Nov 042014

Transferring the stretcher


Since getting back from my trips after to France and Komodo, it’s been all work on the weekend front. Our Elk resupply trip and a weekend in Mt Gambier to talk at the CDAA AGM were followed by a trip down to Tassie to participate in a cave rescue exercise.

The Tassie exercise was co-ordinated by Andreas of the STC, and partially funded by an ASF grant to get Al Warild down south from NSW to run it. Cave rescues in Tasmania are likely to be vertical affairs and the 4 day course focussed on rigging and lifting stretchers up and out to sunshine. The group attending included cavers from NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and all corners of Tasmania. Personally speaking, it was reassuring to see us all become more competent by the end of Sunday – should I need to be extracted from a deep dark Tasmanian cave, it’s good to know there’s some people who have done a practice run.

Cave stretcher haul

More importantly, the process of climbing 20 minutes down into a cave and then 20 people spending the rest of the day co-ordinating a stretcher back up to the top illustrated just how slow a rescue process is likely to be. When the likely distance of a real casualty from the entrance (Murphy’s Law says any incident will always happen at the worst possible time) and the time required to call for help, assemble a team and transport them to the entrance are taken into account, the best course of action is clear – don’t hurt yourself caving! If you must, pick a body part that doesn’t interfere with getting yourself out of the cave.

Another key takeaway was just how high the rigging points need to be to get a stretcher off the top of a pitch and off the ground for tyroleans. What seems sensible for an able-bodied caver climbing off the top of a pitch doesn’t work in quite the same way for a prone stretcher bumping it’s way out of the cave. Something to consider when rigging for exploration where possible.

I was also happy to be using my compact Lumix to take photos rather than my Canon dSLR. I hooked up one of my inon Z240 underwater strobes via a fibreoptic cable and blocked the on board flash with duct tape. This eliminated backscatter from dust and water particles reflecting flash light straight back into the lens. I’m starting to see how this compact set up can work for me and I’ll post more about that next week. It was nice to be able to drop a “tough camera” on a rock and have free hands for the stretcher, then grab it for a few quick shots before putting it down again. Certainly not something I’d want to try with my 5DII in a damp cave and I doubt I would have been able to get these shots while still participating.

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