International cave rescue trainings

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Organized by the Speleo Secours Francais after the UIS congress of La chaux de Fond, 1997 saw the first international training in a new style of cave rescue. Since then, the French, with its commission on cave rescue, has conducted international training for 30 to 40 cavers every two years. All the aspects of the rescue were in the program: Assistance for the casualty, carrying the stretcher (with and without rope), communications underground, removing obstructions (with and without explosives), diving, and operational organization. The teaching was conducted in place: caves, pits, canyons, and cliffs. The courses are conducted in French, Spanish and English. The course starts with simpler techniques and continues to the more difficult. At the end of the training there was an exercise with the cavers of the country and the administrative partners.

We conducted these trainings for more than 200 cavers coming from 24 countries all across the world. Some graduates of the course have become leaders in cave rescue in their own countries.

Introduction

The experience of French Cave Rescue is linked with more practice of Speleology and accidents since the seventies. The French had forty accidents by year during the eighties. During 10 years we had expand work on formation and on prevention and found better conditions of exploration to arrive at 25 interventions a year. The processing of these accidents led the Spéléo Secours Français to search solutions for technique, material, digging, caving, medicals aspects, communication and management. These researches were done in numerous countries and contribute today to recognition of cavers by State.
The exchanges for cave rescue existed many years but they grew since 1997 after le congress UIS of Chaux de Fond in Switzerland.
This year the Spéléo Secours Français proposed a training international of cave rescue after the congress.
The need for safety goes with increased practice of caving in numerous countries and especially in Europe. The Speleology practice becomes more democratic and with more practice, unfortunately the accidents increased.
Some administrative agreements between France and European countries allow financial facilities for these exchanges.

The particular context of international trainings

Exchanges between the countries became general. Before these exchanges concerned teaching of caving and continued with all the themes including the rescue. The scientific training receives some foreign cavers like the last in Vercors 2008.
The foreign cavers were more and more numerous at the national training before 1997.
They needed other things and more than we were teaching into our national formation about technical and administrative aspects.
Finally we needed more time for the translation and a specific training for the other countries became a necessity.

The cave rescue organization in France

We have known an advance of the material and techniques from the eighties. We made some tests after those made by the Italian cavers. We could publish a technical manual and inform about the new techniques.
For example using only one rope for cave rescue instead of two. We must do many training sessions for the rescue team in France and agree this new concept. At this time we received cavers from Poland and Hungary in our training. We put then in place a specific training for the rescue team of Miskolk of Hungary. They came in France (Savoie) with a bus and all the team.
Since beginning the Spéléo Secours Français adopted a management process of rescue to coordinate the teams and the people inside the cave.
Finally the medicalisation contributed to condition the victim and avoid a death during transport.
Bringing the necessary medication, etc… before the evacuation has become the first necessity.
In 1997, during the first Rescue International Session organized by the SSF, I wanted to consecrate time for each country to present the operation method of each country. But at the first contact the cavers of 12 countries represented said they could not do that and they needed the experience developed by the French and waited for more information on our part.

Session program

In first requirement, the cavers need to practice the individual technique with rope. This is for experienced cavers.
The evacuation techniques with rope and stretcher are practice with a progression in the complexity of situation. We see in first place the 3 points knot and after the hitch knot.
On the triple anchor we install a “pulley jammer”, followed by a “Z-rig” and finally a “counterbalance”. For each of those stages we install the system. While doing it each trainee changes position to understand each part of the operation.
We finish with the Tyrolean horizontal or inclined.

ASV (Victim Assistance):

This is to understand all concerns a victim with regard to his state of health. We have to know and to do the survival point. After to transfer for comfort and warmth and to access what is necessary for the rescue before evacuation.
At the same time we see if a doctor is required. We see with him how bring our help in medical aspect.

Communication

We put in place means of communication, either telephone or radio, with or without line, especially the TPS (Transmission radio by ground).

Removal of obstruction

The removal of obstruction with or without explosives is also put in place. Understanding the use is controlled by regulation in each country.

Diving

Diving is done with specific techniques and a demonstration of underwater stretcher for evacuation of sumps. Information and demonstration are done by the teams of divers of the SSF depending of the site.
For example in Jura a trainee chosen from 7 volunteers is a victim on stretcher and transporter under the water the lake.

Management

Finally the management is thought with specific teals: diagram, planning, notepad and posters… This aspect is systematically done and applied during a big exercise.

Methodology

The information is given in 3 languages: French, English and Spanish. Teams by language are formed to gain time and easier exchange between participants.
The theory is used, afterwards in caves, pits, cliffs or canyons.
An exercise in association with the cavers and administration partners gives us a day and half to put in real situation what is been learned and to see the management and organization of rescue.
A debriefing in a form of video is given to each member with a resume of the techniques used. The video is about one hour and provides the 4 hours of sequences covered by the curse.

Evolution

In ten years, we have seen a standardization of individual equipment with much more security.
Now the trainees that arrive have often learnt the basic principals at home. This allowed much more time for advance training of the ASV and makes the management easier.
The cavers demand management and support on the administration level.
In certain countries the rescue teams of cavers have not recognition of government. During rescue the problems of responsibility, finance, insurance for the rescue team are now the actuality.
If the numbers increase in the practical of caving in numerous countries brings results, it produces statistics of the more frequent rescues. The formation and prevention helps the reduction of accidents but doesn’t stop the need for rescue teams.
It is therefore necessary to continue the exchange and formation.
At the level of continent and part of continent it is important to develop the research and finally facilitate reinforcements when it is necessary.

The international training sessions in France 1997 to 2008

In ten years we have organized 6 curses. Each of them for a period of 8 days.
In 1997 in Alps, 1999 – 2001 and 2003 in Pyrenees, 2006 in Jura and 2008 in Alps.
Other national curses received equally foreign cavers in ASV, or removing obstructions session, or training for rescue team member or leader and technical instructor session.
We have received about 200 cavers from all continents and 22 countries:

  • Africa: Morocco,
  • America: Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico,
  • Asia: Lebanon, Japan,
  • Australia
  • Europe: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, Italia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland.

Extra to the curses in France we have organized a same type of curse 3 times in Mexico and once in Russia.
Another form of exchange concerns sending technical cancellers in other organizing countries. For instance, these last years in 7 countries : Lebanon, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Spain and Greece.
During recent years in our country we have received also cavers from Belgium when they have organized their own curses in France.

Conclusion

We are aware of the importance of the involvement of cavers in their own rescue organization. The cavers know the caves, the means to practice caving and rescue techniques, so they can and have to play a role in cave rescue organization.
The traditional security teams and often professionals do not have sufficient numbers in the face of rare caving rescues in their countries. We have to include in all teams member and medical knowledge to put in security someone in case of necessity.
This commitment confirms us for a responsible practice near our authorities. We can bring help with efficient if there is an accident concerning someone who is not caver.
Finally many cavers who are coming at these curses are today in charge of cave rescue in their country.
The techniques and methods are the same in every country that allow a better condition when we have to work together.
Others countries have exchange: for example the Belgium and the Turkey or Switzerland and Cuba….
Last point, cavers are more efficient in caving and in case of accident they can do themselves the rescue.

Bibliographie :

Manuel du Sauveteur - édité par le Spéléo Secours Français - Editions SSF en 2005
(3 versions : française, anglaise et espagnole)
Compte rendu des stages internationaux - par Christian Dodelin - INFO SSF n°92 septembre 2008 (p17 à 19)
Résumé des essais SSF de 1994 et 1996 - par Jacques Gudefin et Christian Dodelin - dans Dossier d’Etudes et de Recherches du Spéléo Secours Français en mai 1998 (p 25 à 36)