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Tumbling Rock Mock

February 26th, 2011

Cave Rescue Teams Join Forces for Training

Posted March 6th on The Chattanoogan

The Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit, along with the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Rescue Service's Cave/Cliff Team and members of the Jackson County, Alabama's cave rescue team conducted a mock cave rescue on Saturday. The effort involved more than 50 rescuers, who came from as far away as Nashville and Atlanta to participate. The most significant benefit of the mock rescue was the sense of teamwork and camaraderie built during the event. The various teams involved, as well as the several other support organizations, came away from the hard day's work with a greatly renewed feeling of "why we work in cave rescue." It's all about the patient, the cave, and the ability to work together to safely and competently achieve a difficult task in a harsh environment. Working together as a unified team, the agencies involved achieved a strong sense of satisfaction at a job well done.

The mock rescue was staged in Alabama's Tumbling Rock Cave, which is managed by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. In the simulation, a patient was reported as being mildly injured and requiring assistance nearly a mile inside the cave. There were many obstacles to overcome: the passage was extremely rugged, with slippery muddy sections, large rocky "breakdown" areas, water or stream passages, and the ever-present cave hazards of darkness and cold. Communication through a cave is very difficult, using both "runners" and a hand-laid wire telephone.

Integrating the efforts of the different cave rescue teams was a special challenge. Identifying and sharing command resources, radio frequencies, terminology and methodologies were all problems which had to be solved in advance of sending a team into the cave. Despite these challenges, the patient was quickly reached, packaged in a specialized litter for transport in the cave, and moved toward the entrance. A paramedic was on hand, monitoring the patient's status "for real" during the transport, alert for signs of impaired circulation or discomfort. The patient was moved to the advanced care staging area at the entrance. Though this was considered a very fast cave rescue, the effort still involved a total of seven hours of concerted effort by the rescue crew. Even if the entrance is near a road, caves are considered a wilderness for rescue purposes because the effort that it takes to travel through them. Often times the entrances are so remote that several hours of cross-country hiking and navigation are required to reach them.

With the recent increase in media attention to caves and caving, this exercise was a timely one. In recent months there has been a major movie, a television program, and coverage of at least three cave rescue events in this area. Caving, or "spelunking", is a very specialized activity that requires equipment, training, and discipline. Perhaps the most important quality one can have in the sport of caving is judgment: knowing when to turn around or whom to ask for guidance to avoid the hazards inherent in traveling through caves. In addition to the physical dangers, there are legal consequences to damaging caves or the wildlife that lives in them. Caves are protected features by both state and federal statute.

The National Speleological Society (http:/www.caves.org) was represented by participation and support from its local clubs, or grottos.  The Dogwood City Grotto, from Atlanta, Georgia, was especially supportive, providing a fresh pizza dinner from Steverino's Pizza of Scottsboro.  Members of the Huntsville Grotto, the Nashville Grotto, the Chattanooga Grotto, the Pigeon Mountain Grotto and many other clubs and non-affiliated cavers were present.

It was pointed out that actually both the Dogwood City Grotto and the Huntsville Grotto contributed to the pizza for all the volunteers, and the beer was donated by Jay Clark.

The Grottos wanted to say Thanks to all the participants at the mock. They wanted them to know  they are appreciated and loved and wanted to surprise them with some food and beer afterward for all their hard work.