17 September 2023

Controller in Cwm

After the AGM of the cave rescue team we started making plans. We got ourselves a new training officer, and we already had four aspirant controllers (one of these being me), so we could get cracking. Unfortunately, the first training we would do was in the middle of our fieldwork. And with the low tide being in the afternoon I doubted I could attend. That was a pity! It was a session specifically organised with people like me in mind, who need a practice leading a rescue operation. But I would be sampling modern forams that day.

I had almost given up hope, but then things moved fast enough for me to get home just before six. That meant I just plonked my car in the middle of the road (don’t worry, the only person I could get in the way of is the neighbour, and he could get past, and would also know I would not linger there), loaded up my caving kit, fed the cat, quickly threw a few edible things into my bag (a few energy bars, an apple, and some cashew nuts), left my water bottle in the windowsill, and was off. And I made it!

The session had been organised by Nick, one of the other aspirant controllers. He works in the mine where we had the scenario anyway, so he could just tag some setting up of the scenario to the work he was doing in there. One other aspirant controller was abroad, and the last one seemed to be driving through England, and it was unclear what time he would reach us. So I ended up in charge! For the first time.

Nick told me what the scenario was; four people overdue. He had some details like names and such. And he had printed surveys of the mine with the area within which the scenario played out. The entire mine is way, way too big for an evening exercise. So we walked up to the entrance, and I set up shop at the top of the first incline. And I sent small teams off in the various directions. 

Nothing happened for a little while. One team managed to end up off the demarcated area on the survey. But then things started happening; the first casualty (an A4 piece of paper in a plastic sleeve) was found! And he said where he had seen his three mates last. Or at least, it was written on the piece of paper. So we pretended to bring him out, and focussed on the mentioned location.

Immediately afterwards, there was more news: another team had found the three others! I thought initially. But then I looked at the sheet. These we different people from who we were looking for! So they were not our business and we needed to keep looking. One team was already searching the area where the actual three were last seen, and we decided we would all join them (except me). I would set up station on the floor where everyone else was going. 

Then things went fast. Another person was found! Only a bit cold and cranky, so we brought them out. Then another, in a similar situation. And with about five minutes to spare (we had decided we would end the practice at 9 pm) we found the last one. We had found his water bottle, and he had been found slightly uphill from there. Nick had been kicking some rocks down in the chamber, so people were investigating. And he was hurt! The imaginary casualty, that is. So we basically said we would do the usual thing off assessing his physical situation, getting him into a stretcher, and getting him out. But what we physically did was just carry the piece of paper and the water bottle back to the entrance.

On the way out we came across the third aspirant controller who I had accidentally locked out! He had just gone for a walk. It was a beautiful evening. I felt a bit bad though.

Some of the documentation used

Once outside we had a little debrief, and then we went back to our cars. I was glad I had made it! It had been such a useful exercise. It was the first time I had taken charge of a scenario like that. And it's brought home to me that a lot of it is admin. But I can do that! And I had plenty of people around me who knew the venue like the back of their hand, so I didn't have to worry about that. I suspect the task is a lot more difficult if you don't know the venue. But hopefully, with our combined knowledge, we know every plausible venue around. And let's face it; most of the times when we have to rescue someone it is from the same mine. And we have enough people who know their way around that system.

I was also chuffed that we could do an entire scenario in just a few hours. We should do that more often! It is a lot more intense than just doing a mine familiarisation. But we'll see what happens next! I also know our medical team wants to do a medical session. And I think I am also due leading a session on getting a stretcher through a difficult system…

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