Back to (rescue) school
I’ve been lucky enough to spend the past few days on a Rescue 3 Swiftwater Rescue Technician Advanced (SRTa) with Llangollen Outdoors in North Wales. Having completed the Whitewater Rescue Technician for river professionals (WRT Pro) in Canada, I was keen to see how it compared to the SRT, which is aimed more towards emergency services personnel.
After picking up a Slovenian friend and fellow course member, Miha from the airport, we arrived in Llangollen early Monday morning to start the course. The day started with a classroom based re-cap of basic rescue principles, before moving on to more technical subjects, such as weir risk assessments and mechanical advantage systems.
Before long we were outside, where our instructor, Josh quickly brought everyone up to speed with the various aspects of ropework and rigging, building up the skills that we would need later on in the course.
The course was very much hands-on, with a water session on each day. The first afternoon saw us working with paddle rafts, managing spinal injuries in the water and the highlight of the day – flip drills. Day two was to be our most active day. With the top section of the Upper Tryweryn river hired out for our use, we practiced swimming in to eddies on a section of class 3, before kicking off the team rescue scenarios. The situations were realistic and high intensity, bringing about lots of learning points in the end of exercise debriefs.
The evening of the second day was spent doing a night exercise on the Serpent’s Tail section of the River Dee. With glowsticks and head torches donned, we practiced swimming and live-bait rescues in the dark. Take home point: rescue work at night is much more risky.
The last exercise of the course had us constructing a boat on a high-line, to be able to accurately move a raft around in high energy water, controlled by ropes. The day started with a classroom session to explain the maths involved in the forces acting on the equipment, to avoid any potential gear failures. After that, we found ourselves back at the Serpent’s Tail rapid (in daylight!) to build the system for real. It took a real team effort, with the high amount of rigging involved in the system.
We wrapped up the course in the warmth of the classroom again and started to look towards the next step. Several of those on the course were in the emergency services and will be deployed to use the skills learnt for real in urban flooding environments. Some of us were working our way towards becoming river rescue instructors for commercial river guides. Either way, we learnt that the key to being slick on the river lies in not letting the skills fade. I look forward to practicing the new skills that the course taught me and hope that they’ll never be called upon for real.
A big thank you goes to Joshua O’Brien and those at Llangollen Outdoors for an excellent course. You can book yours here.