Lessons Learned from a Rope Rescue Training LODD

I frequently review NIOSH Line of Duty Death (LODD) reports to learn from unfortunate incidents in our history where a first responder was killed while performing technical rescue activities.  May 23 is a sad day because it is the date of two LODDs, one in 2011 and the other from 2015.  Today, we will review one of the reports from 2011 when a firefighter was killed after falling from a rope at the end of a training evolution.

Note: This blog post is a quick summary of the NIOSH LODD Report.  If you have the time, please read the full report here.

What Happened

The 35-year-old volunteer firefighter had just completed a rope rescue class instructed by a local technical college and hosted at his fire company.  During the class, there was a demonstration of mechanical advantage systems using the fire company’s aerial device as a high directional anchor.  During cleanup, the firefighter decided to try and climb one of the suspended ropes from the aerial to take down another rope.  Unfortunately, he lost his grip and fell approximately 6-8 feet to the ground, striking his head on the pavement and dying at the hospital from his injuries.

F201112PiSource: NIOSH

Contributing Factors

NIOSH identified three contributing factors to this incident.  First, there was no incident safety officer assigned.  Assigning an incident safety officer with knowledge in rope rescue evolutions can help ensure students do not attempt to perform any activities beyond the scope of their training or the training session’s lesson plan.

The second contributing factor was a lack of appropriate personal protective equipment.  In this incident, the victim was not wearing a helmet.  Remember, it is always important proper PPE be worn, even during the termination phase of the training evolution or real-world scenario.  Rescuers can become complacent during the termination phase.

The third contributing factor was having an inappropriate instructor to student ratio.  In this incident, there was only one instructor for 19 students due to the second instructor calling out at the last minute due to an emergency.  While this specific training session had a relatively low risk plan of instruction (students were not supposed to be on rope per the lesson plan), not having a sufficient number of instructors or an incident safety officer resulted in a student attempting skills outside the scope of the class.

Stay safe!

Bill Elder
Owner / Lead Instructor
Elder Technical Rescue Services, LLC

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