Thursday, 8 November 2012

Wheelbarrow Rescue Syndrome

Wheelbarrow Rescue Syndrome (WRS) as defined by Rhodes, P (2006) is a “cumbersome, burdensome, and awkward affliction of those rescue technicians, teams and agencies that promote ‘bigger is better’, or, ‘when in doubt bring it all’”.

This is usually characterised by teams that undertake practical training without understanding or underpinning knowledge, the ‘how’ without the ‘why’, usually facilitated by instructors that are lacking in their own theoretical understanding. This type of training is detrimental to the establishment of a team that will be open to change and future development as better equipment, methods and techniques evolve.

There are five distinct signs and symptoms of teams suffering from ‘WRS’ in the UK:

1.      They insist on backing up all anchors, even ‘bombproof’ ones

2.      They use pre rigged equipment usually carried on their harnesses at all times

3.      They will advocate the use of a figure of eight on a bight as the only true ‘Rescue Knot’ including making the loops excessively large or making multiple loops using up working rope.

4.      They typically let their rope systems drag on edges and surfaces with no or inadequate protection.

5.      Their equipment is dated, not fit for purpose and poorly maintained

6.      Their techniques and methods are distant from other neighbouring teams

7.      Their training is incestuous

To combat this, teams should always insist on knowing the “why” to any technical skills. Once you understand the “why” it will become considerably easier to learn the “how” and ensure they become a lasting part of your teams repertoire.

Avoid wheelbarrow rescues; rescue teams should be light, fast, efficient, competent, adaptable and safe. It is vital that the equipment carried is suitable and meets current standards and thinking rather than the general consensus or personal preferences.

Complex rigging systems may seem impressive but are slow, requiring large amounts of equipment and are inherently harder to manage when something goes wrong. This is especially evident when workspace is at a premium. Teams suffering from WRS will try to match the task to the equipment rather than select the most appropriate equipment and techniques for the situation.

Rescuers would be better served to think in the same mentality as modern Mountain Rescue Teams, moving fast and light, using equipment with multiple uses. Most Urban and Industrial rescues can be performed with a small amount of equipment distributed between the team members and two lines.

Teams and their management should always seek to buy the latest equipment available at that time, teams and their instructors should not seek to continue using a certain piece of equipment purely based on the instructor’s preference or lack of up to date product knowledge. The training should reflect advances in technology and product development not tradition or brand allegiance.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The original

The originator of the original Rollgliss system, Mr Wullimann (Pictured). The Rollgliss R300 was made at Galvano Wullimann AG a metal fabricators in Selzach, Switzerland and now under licence in Germany where the R300 version is still made under the trade name of SWISS RESCUE®. The standard rope for European use was 3/8" or 9mm although a larger diameter rope and adapted Rollgliss was made available for use in the USA. Rollgliss sold the patent for the Rollgliss R350 and the trade name to Protecta Ltd, now part of Capital Safety Ltd. Specialist Training Consultants Ltd have been associated with the supply and maintenance of Rollgliss since our formation in 1997 and have been an operational user since 1988. We work closely with the manufacturer and are recognised as the principle service agent here in the UK for the entire range of Rollgliss equipment.

Monday, 22 October 2012

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Ground pins

Used in firm ground the Ground pin set can provide additional anchorage points in wide range of remote environments. The basic kit contains 6 pins and a heavy hammer in a carry bag.
Positioned in crescent shape with at least 1m between the pins. The individual Galvanised steel pins should be inserted to full length 600mm and inclined slightly backwards. The pins which are 22mm diameter galvanised mild steel allow for a variety of attachments. Rope can be directly knotted or connected through a lanyard and connector.

The rope layout can be a fixed belay or self equalising. It is important as with all anchorages to monitor the parts for movement and of course avoid shock loads. In soft ground pins have been used "in line" one behind another to further strengthen the anchorage. Removing the pins is easy, as by a simple twisting action they can be pulled free from the ground. We have chalk cliffs near to us at STC and have inserted these pins through the top soil into the chalk beneath to provide a very strong anchor point

A closer picture of the individual pin, connected into a belay system via a short protected lanyard. The picture shows a large Klettersteig karabiner, another option would be to use a delta maillon.

Hardware part 1

First of all, is it karabiner or carabiner, after a day on the ropes and over a few beers this one can go on forever! I have over the years read, heard and discussed every argument, statement and fact. The vast majority will call this piece of bent metal a carabiner, for me it’s a karabiner. The bottom line is that what ever you call it, the thing must be appropriate for your task without compromising safety.

Aluminium or steel, which is best? That depends on your application. If you were an Alpine climber, racked out with lots of kit, including 30+ karabiners, then you would appreciate the weight involved and opt without question for aluminium. For rescue and industrial applications you will find yourself on the other side of the fence, steel being your principal choice. Just to confuse the whole issue, climber or rescuer you will have use for both.

Most aluminium karabiners are forged into their desired shape, then heat treated to arrange the molecules like the grain in hard wood. It’s in these aluminium karabiners that we see the most variation in shape, being designed primarily for the sports climbing market (ref:pic 1).

Pic 1

I read a hefty article about the metallurgy of aluminium karabiners, and the one thing that I clearly remember is that the material, when being forged, takes on a crystalline structure, immensely strong but it can be brittle. So what happens if one is dropped from a height onto a hard surface? Aluminium karabiners do not “witness damage” very well, in other words it will look fine, until it is shock loaded whereupon it may fracture and fail with disastrous results. To get round this problem, if you drop it, bin it! A steel karabiner, if dropped, will invariably be visibly marked and thus will “witness damage”, also steel karabiners will distort out of shape if over loaded. So don’t panic, failure of karabiners is virtually unheard of, it’s the failure of the user, that is the point to watch out for!

Regardless of construction material, all karabiners used in rescue should have a breaking strain of at least 28kN for aluminium
(ref:pic 2)

Pic 2

and 42kN for steel (ref:pic 3), in addition they should all have spring loaded gates with screw locks. I am never comfortable with twist lock gates, however for industrial users or occasional users I do recommend them. Some manufacturers offer a twist lock with an independent lock system, push button or pull and twist options. (ref:pic 4) these are excellent.

Pic 3

Pic 4


For the vast amount of applications my own preference is a large steel screw gate karabiner that is rated at 42kN, made by DMM in North Wales. UK. (ref pic 5)

Pic 5

Corrosion will always be worth looking out for (ref:pic 6). Steel (Iron and Carbon) used in the manufacture of Karabiners is an alloy that may include Sulphur, Manganese and Phosphorous. Karabiners are then plated with a process that puts several layers on the surface. As the top layer is worn away by abrasion or friction the remaining layers will keep corrosion under control. Aluminium karabiners are made from an alloy containing Aluminium, Magnesium and Silica that has good corrosion resisting properties and most are also anodised. Corrosion, either rust on steel components or oxides from aluminium, (we have all rubbed down wood with aluminium oxide paper) will not do our lines or webbing kit any good if it is allowed to build up. Surprisingly the one item left off most kit lists is a washing machine or at least access to one for our ropes and slings etc.

Pic 6
I had an interesting conversation with a representative of the Health and Safety Executive on the for’s and against’s regarding karabiners and was intrigued to hear that the HSE would prefer the use of Maillon Rapides in most applications as they have an unparallelled safety record. I tried it and liked it, used as the item of choice by many Police tactical teams; Maillons will be used without exception when rigging. They now form part of my standard kit and I have found myself recommending them more and more. Delta Maillon (triangle shape) or Pear shaped (ref: pic 7) in 10mm stainless steel, they are certificated as PPE and have an EN reference number.

Pic 7.
Being able to take a load on three axes against only two for a karabiner, they are perfect for use when rigging or establishing anchor points (ref: pic 8). Secured finger tight or nipped up with a 13mm spanner or a multi tool, they have a 100% safety record.

When used appropriately they will be superior to a Karabiner, but I must add never replace them, both Karabiners and Maillons will be found in my kit.


Pic 8.
We clean harness, lines, and tapes but often disregard Karabiners assuming they can look after themselves. Hinges and springs become clogged with dirt and threads on screw gates become stiff with dirt. A good scrub in warm soapy water, a toothbrush to clean threads and hinges comes in handy. The most positive part is handling and taking a close look at this often-neglected item. I once witnessed Karabiners being lubricated with WD40! Shock and horror, the oil will accumulate more dirt while the solvent base will contaminate lines and tapes slowly destroying their molecular structure! A good Karabiner that is clean and dry will need nothing or at most a touch of Silicon spray on the hinge and thread.

The bottom line is; if you are in any doubt about the integrity of your Karabiners be they Steel or Aluminium then retire them, they are a cheap item, but crucial to any line rescue system.

A shocking tale

A lot of rope rescue technicians still don't understand the principles of fall factor. However, it's quite simple, even if you hated arithmetic. Fall Factor is simply the distance of the fall divided by the length of the rope or lanyard from the person falling to anchor point.

The equation looks like this;

Fall Factor = Length of Fall / Length of Rope/lanyard

A Fall Factor 2 is the maximum you will encounter in a typical un-arrested fall, since the height of a fall can't exceed two times the length of the rope or lanyard. Normally, a Fall Factor 2 can only occur when a technician is working above his anchor point and at the maximum length of the rope or lanyard. The force is the same if you fall 2 metres or 20 metres.

Your well being depends on several factors, strength of your anchor, the stretch of the rope or deployment of the energy absorber, strength of your connectors and finally the fit of your harness.

Shock load is the result of three factors; the rope or energy absorber, the fall factor, and the weight of the falling object.

Obviously, the only part of this equation that can drastically reduce the force of a fall is the deployment of the energy absorber. So, safety systems are designed around the shock-absorbing quality of the energy absorber. It cushions the fall, reducing the impact force and the chance of system failure. The energy absorber is the one element in the whole system that is designed to limit the force of a rescue technicians’ weight in a worst-case fall (Fall Factor 2) to not more that 6 kN. The rest of the system can be designed to work with this known maximum force.

Static ropes are designed to minimise stretch. Their ability to absorb shock is marginal, particularly along short lengths of rope, and they transmit virtually all the shock load equally to the anchor system and to the body. In a rescue situation, a very short fall can develop enough force to be critical, especially with a casualty on board. Therefore rope of choice for rescue applications must be a semi static conforming to EN1891A and be of 11mm or 10.5mm in diameter. The compromise of the stretch will be very useful when arresting a fall and one thing often overlooked is the action of the various knots in the system to also tighten and absorb energy.

Webbing slings perform like static rope. Used for anchoring and extending a connection, slings are just as rigid as static rope. A Fall Factor 2 develops enough shock load to risk failure of the sling, the wearers harness, karabiners, not to mention damage to the rescue technicians internal organs.

In conclusion

A fall of less than four feet on a static rope or sling can create enough shock force to cause serious injury. The human body can only sustain, a shock force of 12 kN and loads of 18 kN are not only highly undesirable but very dangerous. In addition 18 kN is getting close to the minimum limits of all the items in your rope system. A fall factor 1.9 attached directly to a static rope running over a karabiner or pulley, with is normal shock force of 18 kN, becomes a shock force of 30 kN. Would your anchor hold? It is academic, because something else would undoubtedly fail.

Always ensure you’re protected by an energy absorber, protect yourself from falling by the use of restraint techniques or if safe to do so, use a fall arrest lanyard. Never work above your anchor point unless you are very well protected. Use only semi static ropes and ensure the equipment you use in the system is rated accordingly, e.g. sports climbing equipment has very limited use in rescue.

The most valuable item you carry is your brain, look at the problem and be sure you fully understand the consequences of your actions and results of an accidental arrested fall.

Anchors, part 1

I have watched students tasked with attaching a line to a fixed anchor point struggle and retie knots several times to achieve a slack fee connection. Try this method and you will achieve results every time.

How much do I allow for the knot. Trial and error?

create a bight in the line (11mm) and pull the line and anchorage together tightly, adjusting the bight so that the two just meet. Note: the tighter these two are pulled together, the tighter will be the attachment.

Extend the bight an additional 8" or 200mm, as a guide, measure and use the span of your fingers as a guide. Then tie a figure of eight knot, dress and tension the knot in the normal manner.

Finally make the connection, you will find the knot to be in the perfect position. The system works with all lines, the length of the addition will need to be adjusted to accommodate different line diameters.

The major consideration in establishing any anchorage system is the prevention or at least the management of shock loads. These unwelcome forces can be caused by a number of reasons, whatever their cause they can seriously overload a system, causing the failure of knots and anchorages alike.

Prevention has always been better than cure. When a rope is under tension and then shock loaded we have relied in the past on the elasticity built into the line and the fact that knots will tighten slightly.

Energy dissipater

The energy dissipater has been around for a while, but like most items was designed for a different use. Petzl use a similar method of reducing shock loads in their Via ferrata lanyards, yet it has never been actively applied to rope terminations.  

The rope in use, either an 11mm or even 9mm is passed through the holes in the device, it is very important to ensure that the correct sequence of holes is followed as they differ in size for the varying diameters of line. A diagram engraved on the body of the dissipater helps with this. Personally, for our lines that are packed and ready for use, we leave them in place. Most important is to leave a tail of about a metre and finish with a stop knot.

Under normal use, this termination is as secure as any knot. However should the rope be shock loaded the dissipater will allow the rope to pass through, absorbing energy in the process. The stop knot is a preventative measure to stop the rope from unravelling completely. Should you wish to prevent any movement in the rope pass the knotted tail beneath the last turn on the dissipater.