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.