With the emergence of Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) in 1996, the vital importance of operational context, constraints, and threats revolutionized practices in pre-hospital medicine. These TC3 guidelines emerged because normative traditional civilian trauma practices did not translate well into the context of unconventional tactical environments. Law enforcement tactical units, military SOF, and civilian rescue personnel, such as mountain rescue and wildland firefighter Rapid Extraction Module Support (REMS), operate in non-linear, unpredictable, and high threat environments. Rescue tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP’s) must continually evolve and are in dire need of the same contextual fulcrum for change. The mistranslation of vertical access and rescue customs and practices, to an environment with uncertain and unrecognizable hazards, can lead to catastrophic failure.
Striking the critical balance between adherence to an approved standard or context specific best practice and the inherent operational demands of a highly variable, time compressed, and threat saturated operational landscape is the challenge we must acknowledge. Long-standing (legacy) cognitive processes for vertical mobility are often rendered irrelevant or devolve into the illogical in a VUCA-T2 (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous, Threat containing and Time-compressed) environment. Irrelevance is often rooted in comparing operational TTPs containing mission- specific benchmarks to misinterpreted vertical response gold standards. This “friction” is often due to the end-user misinterpretation, not the guideline scope or job performance requirements (JPR’s). Why would a guideline like NFPA 1006 or 1983 require end-users to utilize 12.5mm rope, 40kN steel carabiners, and twin (or dual) rope systems during operations like mountain rescue, REMS, RTF, or any tactical operation, when doing so would potentially directly effect response efficiency, team safety, and casualty outcome? The answer is they DON’T!
When searching for that elusive "Gold Standard" to dictate requirements such as rope diameter, prescribed operational techniques, mandated hardware, and convenient universal equipment minimum break strength (MBS), program administrators for vertical teams often look to the fire service, mountain rescue or “rappel master” certification for that “one” perfect standard to dictate how they will rescue and what they must use. By default, many cite equipment mandates from NFPA 1983, Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services not realizing that this standard is a manufacturer's standard, not an end-user's. Although it can be used as a reference to end-users for design and testing specifications, it does not mandate any equipment to an operational team. NFPA defers the decision for equipment utilization, preferred System Safety Factors (SSF), and rigging techniques to the operational organization’s AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). NFPA 1983 acknowledges that certain vertical access and rescue situations meet a critical threshold outside the application of this guideline's specific relevance.
“This standard shall not specify requirements for any rope or associated equipment designed for mountain rescue, cave rescue, lead climbing operations, or where expected hazards and situations dictate other performance requirements.” (NFPA 1983, Section 1.1.5)
This is of critical importance for mountain rescue, USSOCOM, federal response teams, fire/EMS based rescue task force (RTF), disaster response (SAR), and wildland firefighting rapid extraction modular system (REMS) teams. These “other performance requirements” may be in the form of gear utilized and/or techniques employed.
There is no one "way” to rescue, the “way” changes based on the operational threats, constraints and organic assets at hand. The environment plays a critical role in the way we rescue at any given time, on any given mission - we must forge principles to create our “best practice” in realtime, while interacting with the given unpredictable emerging variables. There is no guarantee of a textbook “bomber” anchor, optimal length of rope, or preferred accessory hardware or software. Dynamic vertical response demands rapid rigging decisions based on experience, depth of knowledge, innovative problem-solving, and highly adaptable vertical kits and components grounded in requisite diversity. We are committed to serving and supporting those "Outlaws of Physics" who work in unforgiving environments "where expected hazards and situations dictate other performance requirements"...those pirates who savagely Rescue under a Black Flag!