You might have been trained, but are you competent? Does the adage that 'some training is better than no training' stand up to scrutiny?

The first question an agency should ask itself is: what are we asking our personnel to do?

Within the rescue field, teams are commonly asked to perform complicated tasks in high consequence environments, with multiple external pressures influencing their decision making. Rope and water rescues require a great deal of technical understanding from the team members involved and they will be required to pick out the most appropriate technique from the myriad options available to them. If a team has only seen a technique once, on a training course, five years ago, will they be able to remember the nuances of the technique’s application? Having experienced a technique in one given training environment, will those rescuers be able to understand the benefits and limitations of the technique?

The Rescue 3 philosophy identifies four stages of a rescuer’s development, these being: training, practice, experience, and judgement. Training is a rescuer’s foundation - the introduction of ideas and techniques; it is only by going out into the world to practise and gain experience in the use of different techniques, in different environments, that a rescuer develops judgement.


So, get some training, go out into the world? 

There is another old saying that ‘practice makes perfect’. However this is not necessarily the case. What is true is that ‘practice makes permanent’. The repetition of a task will drill muscle memory and recognition; the problem occurs when a technique is performed inaccurately or if the technique is being misapplied. While regular in-house training is incredibly important for the development of a rescue team's capability, it is also important to check that bad practice is not creeping in and being reinforced through repetition. The quality, or lack of, in-house training should also raise questions about a rescuer's capability one week after they have completed a training course versus a rescuer who completed their training course three years ago.


Things do change…

The rescue world is changing constantly, both in terms of techniques and equipment. This means that our rescue training should be in a state of constant evolution. What may have been current best practice when students took their initial course can easily be supplanted by new techniques or models. The most obvious example is the use of designated main and designated belay (DMDB) for rope rescue operations. Transporting a rescue load with a designated main line seeing the load, while backing it up with a hand tight belay, was widely considered best practice and has been ubiquitous in the rope rescue world for a very long time. Over the past few years, there has been a paradigm shift towards Dual Capable Twin Tensioned Rope Systems (DCTTRS), where the load is shared between the two ropes. This means that teams who undertook training a couple of years before would be unaware of the substantive change in thinking, based on anecdotal evidence and more up-to-date research.


Check, consolidate, and evolve.

The need for ongoing professional input into technical rescue training is essential. The idea that a single training course produces competent rescuers in perpetuity does not stand up to scrutiny. The constant evolution of techniques, the likelihood of skill fade, and potential for technique creep - where a technique is warped and misapplied - is enormous. For these reasons, regular externally accredited updates for both students and instructors are vital. So when we ask the question: what are we asking our personnel to do? We should also be asking: does the frequency and quality of our training genuinely prepare our teams for their operational reality?


Rob Litherland is Curriculum Developer for Rescue 3 Europe. He is a Rescue 3 Instructor trainer in multiple disciplines.