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Rope Rescue


Rescue from heights techniques and equipment have improved substantially over the years. Nylon ropes and alloy equipment have superseded natural fibre ropes and steel equipment. All equipment is extremely versatile and designed with a safety factor greater than 15:1.

Alloy equipment disperses heat far quicker than steel, and is less susceptible to corrosion.

Nylon kernmantle ropes are made with a braided sheath (the mantle) around a core of parallel fibres (the kern) that run the full length of the rope, whereas the fibres in a natural fibre rope can be as short as 15 cm. Natural fibre ropes are also far more susceptible to rotting.

There are two types of nylon rope. Dynamic rope is designed to stretch substantially and is used mainly in rock climbing, but is unsuitable for rescue work. Static rope, which is used in rescue work, will only stretch about 2% under normal conditions, making it much more predictable.

Care of Ropes

When using nylon ropes, care must be taken to prevent them from rubbing against any other nylon, and they should be kept out of oil and must be kept away from strong chemicals. Ropes should also never run over unpadded sharp edges. Lamp batteries and car batteries contain acid so ropes should never be placed near these, and ropes should not be left lying on concrete as its surface is often acidic. Salt also is damaging to ropes and should be avoided.

Ropes will often be used in dirty environments, which is not a problem if proper precautions are taken. Dirt must not be ground into rope because if grains of dirt get into the core of the rope they will cut the fibres. For this reason, ropes should not be abseiled on if they have become dirty, they should not be dragged and they must never be trodden on.

Ropes can be washed in a trough or a washing machine, as long as they wont be rubbing against nylon. Washing powder can be used if it is safe for synthetics and does not contain chlorine. Fabric softener should not be used. Before being machine washed, a rope should be 'chained' to minimise tangling. Ropes should be slowly dried by being strung out in a well ventilated area out of the sun and away from direct heat.

If a rope is to be cut, tape should be bound around the rope either side of where it is to be cut and a sharp knife should be used. The ends must be melted to prevent the sheath sliding up the core.

Ropes should regularly be checked for lumps, fusing and visible damage. If fusing is felt, or if lumps don't subside after 48 hours, the rope should be condemned. A rope should also be condemned if its strength is in doubt, it has suffered shock loading, the core is protruding through the sheath or there is visible damage. Rope should form a curve with no straight sections if loosely bent. A fuzzy sheath is not a problem.


Every rig must be carefully checked by a second person, preferably the captain, before being used and a rescue rig should always be tested before carrying a casualty.

No fall of any distance is acceptable - gaining height with anchor points and using an appropriate system will eliminate such a risk. Rescue rigs should be fail safe so that nobody is in danger in the case of unexpected circumstances. A rescue rig should always be chosen to have minimal friction loss.

Only strong structures can be used as anchor points. Two slings and two karabiners should be used on each anchor point. Both ends of slings must be attached to a karabiner. Choking a sling will reduce strength and can cause nylon to rub on nylon. Where an anchor point is to be loaded at an angle, or where a rope passes diagonally over an edge, check that nothing will slip when loaded. A bipod must be perfectly in line with the rope it is supporting.

A back-up anchor point should be arranged so that if the main anchor point fails there will be minimal shock to the rope.

Equipment must be placed on the ground and never dropped.

Equipment must be regularly inspected and suspect equipment must be condemned.

Unless abseiling with an SRT descender, there must always be a person on belay. Before going over the edge, the rigging of a descender must be checked by putting weight against it.

A descender should always be tied off while work is being performed.

Karabiners must never sit hard against an edge and load should never be applied against the gate of a karabiner. Karabiners should be arranged so that vibration will cause the gates to tighten rather than loosen. Where two karabiners are placed together, the gates should not be touching each other. It is best not to do up the gates on the karabiners until the rig is complete, then do them all up systematically.

Gloves should only be worn when using friction to control a rope, and not when rigging up.

Pulleys must always be backed up by a karabiner behind the main direction of travel. Running pulleys should never be twisted by pull ropes, extra karabiners will prevent this.

A rope must only be tensioned by one person with a mechanical advantage no greater than 3:1 through karabiners and not pulleys.

Jumars should not be relied on alone for anchoring a rope, the rope should be tied off. One jumar attaching a rig to a haul rope must only pull one person's weight and the haul rope must run through a fixed jumar with the slack constantly removed - jumars are not designed to catch a moving rope or be subjected to shock loading.

Tail ropes should always be used with a rescue rig for guiding the casualty around obstacles and for holding weight on the rig when necessary. Having an escort with a casualty will increase the workload for the rescuers and slow the rescue.

Should it be necessary to have an escort with a casualty, it is acceptable to use two jumars linked in line to attach the rig to the haul rope as well as having the haul rope running through an anchored pair of linked jumars.


1 : 1

1:1 (ie zero) Mechanical Advantage


2 : 1

2:1 Mechanical Advantage

(temporary raising system)


3 : 1

3:1 Mechanical Advantage

(Rescuemaster with top anchored, Crux Micro,

rope tensioning system)


4 : 1

4:1 Mechanical Advantage

(Rescuemaster with bottom anchored)


Rope Rigs

Emergency Response Considerations

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus

Drager PA93

Hazardous Chemicals

Drager BG174

Drager BG4



Fire Fighting

First Aid

Case Study - Pasminco Fire

Major Disaster Case Studies


Summary of the Principles of Rescue Work

Guidelines for the Frequency of Practice Sessions

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