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Are cave rescues
just confined spaces?
By Dustin Gladwell
After a couple of cave rescues within several months of each other, I had a conversation with
some local rescue team leaders concerning the lack
of training regarding caves. I was trying to propose
that technical rescue teams get specialized training
in cave rescue, as almost none of the teams in my
area have legitimate training in this discipline. The
answer I received was very concerning and made
me examine how other technical rescue and urban
search and rescue based teams would mitigate a
cave rescue. The response I got was: “We don’t need
training on cave rescue because we will treat it as a
confined space, and we obviously have training in
that.” While most rescues are just locating the lost
person in a novice cave or helping someone who has
a sprained ankle, this is not the case with all caves.
There are some that require very specialized skills
that include rock climbing, cave diving (specialized
scuba), and modified rope techniques.
This “we already know it “approach is prevalent
in many departments. You are probably thinking,
“Well, it technically is a confined space, isn’t it?”
You would be correct in that it is a confined space,
and some techniques will transfer over to the cave
world. However, there are many that do not, and
you might find yourself in way over your head if
you attempt to do the rescue without the specialized training. In this article, I will take an in depth
look at some critical differences between the two
disciplines and present a few questions that you
should ask yourself, your team, and your department before you decide to take your skill set to a
subterranean danger zone.
The first consideration is whether you have caves
in your jurisdiction. In my response area, there
Tommy Shifflett descends into Sotano Basura, Oaxaca, Mexico.
(Photo by Zeb Lilly.)
Zeb Lilly beginning a sump
dive in the Water Sinks Subway,
Highland County, Virginia.
(Photo by Phil Lucas.)