Elizabeth fire practices rope rescues in multi-agency exercise

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Elizabeth joined agencies from Castle Rock, Franktown and Larkspur to hone their skills on cliffs such as those in the Castlewood Canyon State Park, widely used by recreational climbers. The May 7 training was prompted by a Christmas Day steep-terrain rescue in the park that called on a team of 20 responders from Douglas County and Franktown.

The Christmas Day 2012 rescue required the help of Douglas County’s search and rescue team. The team was joined by Franktown firefighters to rescue a 20-year-old man who had fallen about 50 feet when he slipped near the park waterfalls.

While the man was brought to safety within about two hours of the call, the experience moved agencies to include multi-agency rope training to their 2013 list.

“In Franktown, we have Castlewood Canyon with a lot of recreational climbing,” said Ryan Bray, Franktown firefighter. “We found we need to familiarize ourselves with the capabilities of surrounding agencies. Different skills call for different thought processes, and this is a skill we need to practice and improve.”

Bray helped lead the day of training on a cliff east of Castle Rock with terrain similar to that at Castlewood Canyon. The training was made up of three sessions throughout the day, to include firefighters from all agencies and all shifts.

To mimic a complicated rescue, the cliff was selected for its 90-degree drop, calling for the use of a tripod pivotal to a successful rescue. The tripod is set near the cliff’s edge to add height at the peak of the climb, giving rescuers who are carrying equipment more control in the first few steps while lowering down the side, Bray said.

“They are fun calls,” he said. “We added more challenging components, rather than a low-angle call.”

A rescue in such conditions would begin with having a rescuer rappel to the bottom to assess the victim’s condition, Bray said. Once firefighters determine whether the call is a rescue or a recovery, the tripod, anchors and lowering system are established to begin the real work.

On training day, about 15 firefighters and paramedics formed teams to anchor the tripod, securing ropes from the pulley system to a “bomb-proof” anchor, said Larkspur Fire Lt. Chad Campagnola.

Bomb-proof anchors include live, mature trees or permanently set boulders — anything that will not shift if faced with several hundred pounds of pull, Campagnola said. By the time the anchors were set, four ropes connected to three anchors held the tripod in place.

On training day, Castle Rock Fire and Rescue Lt. Matt Rettmer called on a volunteer to demonstrate the pulley system, carrying a basket designed to secure a person for the trip back up. The volunteer was 18-year-old EMT Ethan Howard from Larkspur, the day’s youngest trainee.

Howard made the trip down and back without a hiccup.

“It wasn’t high enough,” Howard said of the 40-foot drop. “I like heights.”

The training provided an invaluable resource to Elizabeth Fire, said TJ Steck, Elizabeth Fire Protection District chief.

“(It) is just one more example of how the local fire departments are collaborating to provide better service while saving money,” Steck said. “Our firefighters are more qualified and safer because they are able to share new concepts and theories among the agencies involved.”

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