The National Cave Rescue Commission was formed in 1979 to train rescuers and track rescues related to caves. It is a component of the National Speleological Society which is a non-profit group of over 50,000 cavers who are dedicated to preserving caves and cave environments. The NCRC does NOT do cave rescues, instead it trains rescuers in the latest cave rescue techniques.
Every year the NCRC sponsors a national week long cave rescue seminar. In 2004 there was also a regional week long (actually 10 day) seminar located at California Cavern in Cave City. Most of the SBCSD Cave Team members attended.
NCRC trains rescuers on 3 levels:
- Level I - Team Member
- Level II - Team Leader
- Level III - Incident Command / Rescue Management
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To qualify for the Level I training you must be able to ascend and descend a rope within a certain time limit. You must also be able to don your harness and tie a collection of knots. If you have passed the Intermediate PVS you will have no trouble with the Level I prerequisites. To take the second level you must have completed the first level. Most of our group was taking the Level I course.
The training started with an introduction to climbing gear starting with outdated hardware and moving on to the modern equipment we use today. We then moved on to litter packaging transport. The cave environment makes travel difficult and subterranean litter handling is quite a challenge in comparison to topside transport.
After the first day of training the sky opened up and a torrential downpour flooded our campsite and kept us wet for a week straight. We first practiced litter handling outside in a simulated cave environment which consisted of a rough trail through the woods. Instead of sticking to the trail we took the litter through tree forks; under logs and slabs of concrete; and across a river.
When we were crossing the river which was more of a drainage ditch under a bridge, I decided to see how deep the water was and promptly disappeared from sight. As it turns out the water was deeper than than my 6 foot stature [ed note: wish I had a photo here]. A moment later when another rescuer was attempting to cross around the other side he also disappeared from sight and was promptly pulled out. This was the humor highlight of the training and resulted in several minutes of boisterous laughter and countless retellings of the story.
In the following days we covered many topics ranging from medical considerations to cave environment to vertical rescue. We then practiced the vertical techniques inside and outside the cave. And finally we did a walkthrough where we were given several scenarios inside the cave and were then on our own to execute the rescue. The walkthroughs were not complete rescues, as once we packaged the patient the rescue ended and we were given a different scenario.
The training and walkthroughs all culminated in one final event known as The Mock. We put our names in a hat and one by one we were called to the rescue. This was done to simulate a real rescue, as opposed to everyone arriving at once. The scenario involved half a dozen lost cavers and later a father of one of the lost subjects.
We started with a hasty search of the cave which didn't turn up any of the patients. The thorough search started turning up patients, several of whom had minor injuries which required rigging a haul system in a confined space. After the initial subjects had been extracted from the cave, we learned that there was another patient who had gone in through a vertical entrance a half mile from the main cave entrance.
This subject was down about 100 feet at the bottom of a vertical shaft. He had a broken ankle and was still in his climbing gear so we decided to raise him to the top with a counterbalance system. One end of a long rope was tied to his harness and the other was ran through a pulley. I then attached my ascending gear to the short end and began ascending, but as I was already at the top I didn't go anywhere and the patient moved up the shaft. Friction and the fact that I was banging into the walls of the shaft and not hanging freely made this a strenuous ascent or lack thereof, but eventually the patient passed me by and was out of the cave.
The mock was a great success and everyone involved had a great time and learned valuable skills. The entire training went very smoothly despite the rain. The instructors were knowledgeable and entertaining teachers. Another highlight of the Western Regional NCRC was the food, which was excellent and plentiful. I am looking forward to attending the next NCRC and taking the Level II course.
The 204 photos I took can be found here: http://eecue.com/images_archive/eecue-album-823-1-ncrc_eecue_2004.html