PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
From Pikes Peak to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado is world famous for its mountainous landscapes. Tourists travel from all over to explore and enjoy Colorado’s towering formations.
The mountainous terrain that made the state famous is also treacherous, and creates challenging environments for search and recovery teams within 21st Force Support Squadron when called into action.
One of the major challenges search and recovery faces is the need to climb rock faces. To ensure their personnel are prepared to respond to emergencies in the mountains, 21 FSS has a training program in place with Outdoor Recreation.
“The search and recovery team trains in the mountains twice a year, and they also do search and recovery training on base. Search and recovery is part of the services Air Force Specialty Code, but members are screened through mental health to be part of the team,” Tech. Sgt. Rosey Summerville, 21 FSS, facility manager, and a member of the search and recovery team said.
The rescue climbing training program is an intense two-day course provided by 21 FSS Outdoor Recreation, where search and recovery personnel within 21 FSS learn everything from tying knots for climbing to proper search and recovery procedures in a mountainous environment.
The training day begins with a simple question from John Sedmak, 21 FSS, Outdoor Recreation specialist, “If you could have anything come out of your bellybutton, what would it be?”
The answers from the students varied from money to Tom Brady.
After the humorous introduction, Sedmak explained to the students that the training provides a baseline knowledge of a few different skills.
Climbing tools such as ropes, helmets, harnesses, carabiners and camlets, were all explained in detail and issued to the students.
Helmets are designed to protect the head from falling objects, not from falling on your head, Andrew Harrow, 21 FSS, Outdoor Recreation specialist, said. The helmets are only rated to protect the head from a 5 foot fall.
The rope is a climber’s most valuable tool, and the knots and hitches tied in the rope are essential to operating it. There is a difference between knots and hitches: knots stay in a rope at all times, while hitches, a specialty type of knot, require tension to stay in place, Harrow said.
There are three rules for knots: it must be simple to tie, it must be simple to untie, and the knot must be appropriate for the application you plan to use it for, Harrow said.
The students were taught several knots, such as the clove hitch, the figure eight, the overhand and the double fisherman’s knot.
Anchors are another important technique climbers must know. An anchor is rope attached to two hard-to-move objects on a cliff to rappel up or down the cliff face. CAMS is a simple mnemonic for how to create anchors and stands for components, such as trees or boulders; attachments, such as carabiners holding rope; master point, the point where the two ropes attached to boulders are knotted together; and shelf, or the cliff side, Sedmak said.
On the first day of training, the students practiced creating anchors on trees outside the Outdoor Recreation building using the CAMS model.
On the second day of training the students put all their classroom learning to the test at Helen Hunt Falls. They built anchors and rappelled down cliff sides.
“The course provides knowledge on how to maneuver around mountains. We learned knot tying, being prepared and the basics of rock climbing,” Summerville said.
Rescue climbing training is necessary because the search and recovery team covers the whole of El Paso County, and they could be called anytime there’s a real world event in the mountains, Summerville said.