Training Through the eyes of the Casualty

Valley of the Rocks training

I was given the brief..." please can you organise a training event " its like being given a key to the sweetie shop. So many possible scenarios with only one real out come... I have to be the casualty! Over a beer I had a chat with Derrick who is in charge of rope work and some conversations with James the chief medical officer gave me the idea that I wanted to run cliff training incident.

So once the old grey matter had kicked in, Chris Smith (Smithy) and I came up with the plan...2 climbers go out at Valley of the rocks for the evening. One falls off the rock face and breaks his leg. Whilst he does this he dislodges a rock which falls, hitting the second climber.

We arrived in torrential rain and began setting up. Having had a small amount of special effects make up training last year I managed to cobble together some realistic injuries and applied them to Chris and myself. Chris was at the bottom of the cliff and I was suspended about 20 feet above the ground surrounded by sharp rock. The rain continued beating down on us and it wasn't too long before we were both soaked and cold. The risk of this exercise turning out to be a real call out was never too far from our minds!

Once the ropes were set up Chris took his position to the bottom of the rock face sprawled out on a flat rock with our dog Poppy (who had taken a fancy to the fake blood recipe were were using!) and waited... From my position half way down the cliff I could see the team arriving and getting set up.

Being the good climbers that we were, we had left our exact location, just in case anything happened to us, on the dashboard of my truck. This is something that is often overlooked when people go out for the day. The emergency services tend to find your car before they find you, so if you put your location, if you will be climbing or walking and your estimated time of return, any medical requirements you have and a contact number they will have a head start!

The team quickly located this note and a rapid response team were sent ahead to locate us. It didn't take them long. Both Chris and Myself were both in our best acting characters...Chris being semi-conscious and me being! Poppy...was still liking the pool of 'blood' we had poured out for Chris to lie in.

Cas Carer

Once we had been located, the foot team began to assess us and get some information whilst Chris was attended to by the teams first aid trained members. It soon became apparent that my ropes were tangled and they would have to deploy the rope specialist team members. Light was now fading fast and what little warmth Chris and I had was soon being sucked out of us by the darkness and strengthening wind. My legs had been in the harness now for 45 mins and the genuine risk of suspension trauma was becoming apparent. I managed to rig up a quick self rescue to relieve my pins and needles using a prussic and a clip I had left over from the rig...for the record... its always worth having one!

Chris was drifting in and out of what can only be described as an amusing state of consciousness.. he was worried that he was in trouble with my wife as he was in charge of me and worrying that the blood was going to get all over his clothes and he would be in trouble with his wife... He was playing his part well!

The rope team arrived as the other team members began to sort Chris out. Above me I could hear the rigging being put in to place for my rescue. Below me I could hear one of our team Casualty Carers taking control of Chris' care. A few shouts up to me to check I was still talking confirmed to the Cas carer I was still conscious and not in a critical state. Before I knew it I could see some 20 torch lights buzzing up and down the hill side ferrying stretchers, emergency life support kit and climbing equipment. To see my team from this side of a rescue was enlightening. It was like watching a well oiled machine start up and get moving. Each part had a job to do and each part did it with out discussion, effectively and with out fault. Chit chat was at a minimum and there was an eery radio silence. I had never before seen this side of a rescue. I was in awe. The rain continued and I began to feel the beginning effects of genuine hypothermia. Shivering in my wet shorts and gillie I wished I had dressed more appropriately for this. I had plenty of clothes with me but they were some 20 feet above me in my bag. Lesson learnt!

"Are you alright mate" came a voice from the side of the cliff. One of the team members had managed to safely scramble down to a ledge about 10 feet above me. He asked how I was and started to fill me in on how Chris was doing. There wasn't a moment when he treated me like this was a training scenario, to him and the rest of the team this was serious. They had 2 people, training or otherwise to get off the cliffs. The warmth in his voice brought my diminishing morale back up and with that some warmth in my now shivering limbs. He didn't leave me from that point onwards. I believe that the role this team member played was essential to my well being. Yes, you can have emergency medical care, you can have a helicopter hovering above you but when you are low, cold and hanging onto a cliff edge, to be told that everything was going to be alright and that help was just a few minutes away is as good as all the other rescuing techniques...and one sometimes neglected.

Chris was put into a stretcher and handed from one team of stretcher bearers to another. He was fastened in and was being lifted up the cliff edge by ropes and a complex array of handlers dotted up the hills side. Above me I heard the '"BELOW" call meaning that some one was about to throw rope over the edge. I hunkered into to the cliff edge and held on tight to avoid being hit. The rope passed a couple of feet to my right and my guardian angel was telling me what was going on. I wasn't long before the rope technician was abseiling down to my position.

Cas Carer

He didn't waste any time in securing me to himself incase my rope failed. I was assessed for medical needs. Having a bone sticking out of my shin was the first thing that was dealt with and shortly after this was the suspension trauma My rescuer applied lots of bandages, a vacuum splint to my leg and the necessary items to ensure that suspension issues didn't get any worse. With that I noticed that Chris was half way up the hillside and was being cared for well.

I was so cold. I wanted off the rocks now With that we we're moving down towards the ground. `i was being guided down, one legged by my rescuer one rope at a time. A stretcher was being positioned to take me up the hill to the path where I was going to be handed over to the foot teams. We travelled past the sharp bushes that were obstructing out path. We both sustained some scratches as we passed them. As he said. It was best to go down rather than up, I was willing to be guided by his experience. I was helped down to the stretcher where, in all honesty I was ready to call it a day. The person co-ordinating the rescue called "END EX" on the radio. I was so grateful to hear this. I just wanted to get back to the warmth of the truck and some dry clothes.

As we all packed our things up I had time to reflect on the "what ifs" ...what if this was a real call out. If I was a real casualty, if Chris really had been knocked unconscious. How would I be feeling about the rescue. Now, I know I am biased, but I was so impressed how the team worked together. Smoothly, how professional the care was and how effective the rescue was instigated. I can hand on heart say I would not want to be rescued by any other team. Exmoor train hard for scenarios just like this. Lets hope we never have to put that into action but should it occur I have no worries at all that we are not up to the task. Chris echoed similar sentiments too. Chris went home and was not in trouble with his wife for the blood on his clothes and he was not in trouble with my wife for not looking after me...We had a brilliant time and look forward to another exciting mission with the team!

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