SAR Cave Rescue

Entrance to Crystal CaveHowdy PoppaBob! (and family)

I’ve been watching Fishermans Cove’s Geocaching Logs – lots of visitors, some less adept at the skill than others, but all seem to be enjoying the challenge. Plus, word seems to have spread about the everpresent ‘GrandPa’ who’s looking out for wayward searchers. The disappointment of those who don’t get a visit is like any of us who miss a good Laguna Visit on a sunny day.

Speaking about searching, Kira and I have been pleased, but a bit bored with the few number of search assignments our Alameda County Search and Rescue team has received in the last few months. However, this has provided us with extra hours to spend on training.

Last weekend Kira, I, and 8 of our team-mates converged on Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park to train within the realm of Cave Rescue. We met about 35 other folks from around the state for two days of subterranean rescue exercises.

Cave rescue, as it turns out, is quite different from an above ground search; locating the subject is about 25% of the effort, where it’s about 90% in ground searches.

Crystal Cave has been comfortably widened and ‘heightened’ for tourists to walk easily throughout the main corridors. However, even so, many of the passage ways were only wide enough for one person to walk through. It is a very nice living cave, where deposits are continually creating fantastic specimen of stalactites and stalagmites and columns. Kira was kind enough to lend some extra education to our group, pulling from her experience working both as a geologist with the USGS and with her time spent educating elementary students (i.e. SAR folk) about Kartchner Caverns in Southern Arizona.

Saturday was spent mostly orienting ourselves to the cave environment, its 45˚ temperature, and a number of special rescue techniques. We spent the night in a parking lot about 1/2 a mile away from the cave and then returned on Sunday to participate in a full scale exercise.

The exercise involved four missing persons who were in unknown locations throughout the cave. Our teams were mobilized to do search, medical, and extraction on the subjects, two of whom easily walked out.

A third had an ‘injured’ arm and took some maneuvering while the fourth was the most challenging, as she was ‘unconscious’ and required us to implement our litter packaging and handling skills (think those poor folks getting a ride down the ski-slope). However our patient wasn’t within the wide open corridors or in the magnificently open interior rooms, but instead in a hole about 10 meters below the cave floor through a series of winding passageways, 2-4 feet in diameter.

Sked

Once we had our patient all bundled up on a backboard and in a litter it took about 15 rescuers and almost 2 hours to move a 5’5 120# female the 10 meters into the ‘open space’ above us. And this was a BIG cave! Once we had her in the open, another team of 8 arrived and mucked up the movement even more ;) – but about 45 minutes later we had our patient back into the sunshine, shivering from the extensive time she had spend laying on cold limestone.

Kira and I (and our team) are not necessarily ready to go head first on a rescue mission, but our appreciation for the art has certainly been heightened and we’re much more appreciative that there are no known caves in Alameda County :) (though we’ve got a few here in Santa Cruz we’re gonna go check out soon.)

ALCO SAR Team

Hope all is well. Looking forward to our next visit.

[The training was filmed and being professionally edited. I’ll pass along a copy if we ever get access to it and it’s at all interesting.]

Practicing Cave Rescue with ALCo SAR
Practicing Cave Rescue with ALCo SAR at ToughMudder 2012