We’ve been shorting ourselves. When it comes to aerial-rescue training, we, as an industry, have been spending too much time on the same few points while overlooking numerous critical points in the overall incident. We tend to approach the rescue with the mindset of “down to ground as soon as possible,” and then call it a day. But in an actual incident in the tree care industry today, the emergency doesn’t stop when you disconnect the climber. Even though that’s how most companies train in aerial rescue, real-life rescue incidents continue to progress.
Not our fault.
We initially borrowed aerial-rescue concepts from the line-clearance industry, because at the time it was all we had. Line workers were always taught that aerial rescue was a four-minute operation. You needed to get 35 feet up a pole, which was the height for most residential primary-distribution lines, and get the person down in four minutes.
That’s what I was taught as well. So we adopted that idea in the tree care industry. Because, at the time, it seemed like a good idea. And then we took it to the competition level. At tree-climbing competitions held around the country, we saw the aerial-rescue scenarios set up in a similar format to what we’ve been teaching since the 1970s. It assumed the victim was 35 years old, five feet tall, and at a height of 35 feet in the tree. You had four to five minutes to get the victim down to the ground safely and detach them. And that’s where the emergency stopped in those settings.
If you think about what actually might happen on a job site that would require an aerial rescue, the only certain thing is that you don’t know for certain what kind of rescue you will need to make until the incident plays out.
Will there be an entrapment or a pinning of a climber in a tree? Will there be electrical contact or a massive loss of blood? Will the incident involve a bucket truck?
How do you train for something that probably won’t follow a script? Regular training sessions with many varied types of incidents will help get you further along than no training at all.
How often does your company set up aerial-rescue training? Do you train once a month? Maybe once a year? Or maybe never? According to ANSI Z133, American National Standard for Arboricultural Operations – Safety Standard, aerial-rescue training must be practiced at least once every year. Dr. John Ball of South Dakota University has researched this area and states that 73% of tree workers never practice aerial rescue. We usually will take the time to figure out how to rig in a particular situation, or will work out how to run new equipment or even practice chain-saw felling cuts, but we hardly ever practice the one thing that’s going to save our lives.
So, how do we fix this? My solution is to offer a simple change of mindset. Coming from a background of fire and rescue, I am used to heavy training schedules. As a firefighter, we spent the vast majority of our day training. I know a lot of people think that all firefighters do is go to the grocery store and maybe work out to get ready for the calendar shoot. But firefighting activities have a much higher emphasis on training than actual incident response.
On average, career firefighters train three to four hours a day during a 24-hour shift. On my last assignment, I averaged 12 to 17 calls a day on a 24-hour shift. But we still got four hours of training in every day on top of other duties we had. We trained every day, even in our “peak season,” because we knew we could save lives. We were in a training mindset that dictated our time when we were not on calls.
So, how do we practice our rescue? Should we do it indoors in a classroom setting or in the field? Classroom or desktop-based scenarios are really helpful. We can offer case studies and theory in a setting with few distractions. Discussions can take place with more focused attention.
But desktop-based learning doesn’t take the place of actual kinesthetic, or hands-on, training. Hands-on training teaches muscle memory, which is what you want to rely on in a stressful rescue situation.
OK, great, so do the training out in the field. Who should perform the training? The best climber? An outside trainer? Who has the sufficient knowledge to teach practical and mental processes? If you’ve only just begun your aerial-rescue
training program, now is the time to consider who will be doing the training.
A lot of companies default to competition climbers under the assumption that if you compete in aerial rescue, you’re probably pretty good at it. But I need to tell you that aerial-rescue competition is nothing like the real thing. The aerial-rescue events in tree-climbing competitions are not real-world situations; they are more of a game. There are no actual threats or blood or screams. So, getting a qualified trainer in-house to teach this critical curriculum would be the first step in the right direction.
If you can’t get a qualified aerial-rescue trainer, then look to the Z133 for the aerial-rescue flowchart in the back. This flowchart shows the progression of steps and choices to be made in a rescue, and these steps can be practiced in training. The Z133 is available in print or as a downloadable PDF for your smartphone. This is another one of those things you want to practice and put to memory long before any potential incident takes place. I would hate to think about you or one of your crew running to the truck to get your copy of the Z133 while someone is being crushed in a tree.
The time to have training is not during an emergency. An emergency is the time to have muscle memory to rely on.
Travis Vickerson, CTSP, QCL, is assistant district manager in the Lebanon, New Hampshire, office of Chippers, Inc., now a Davey Tree Care Company, an accredited, 48-year TCIA member company based in Kent, Ohio.