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Training the Rescuers: Behind the Scenes of SARZA’s Mock Callouts

Code Yellow: Hikers in trouble. With these urgent words, the dedicated SARZA volunteers spring into action. Behind the scenes a chain reaction of readiness is set into motion. Duty Officers evaluate their available resources and additional support necessary to navigate this intricate scenario. Code Orange: Teams are assembled. These specialised volunteers swiftly gather their equipment, ensuring self-sufficiency for a minimum of 24 hours as they anticipate the imminent call to action. Code Red: Teams rendezvous at designated location.

This is how SARZA members are mobilised in real-life rescue scenarios. In training exercises it’s vital to replicate live events as closely as possible to ensure lifelike preparation. Members from five Johannesburg regions converged at a central point, forming an impressive procession of 26 vehicles that embarked on the ascent along a steep mountain trail to establish the Mobile Command Post (MCP).

Where others see a mountain, SARZA sees a chance to flex their rescue muscles. Accompanied by members from the University of Johannesburg’s Emergency Medical Care team, ready to provide support for any medical emergencies during the training exercise and to partake in the exercise objectives, this partnership highlighted SARZA’s commitment to preparedness. Following a cleverly designed simulation masterminded by Annelien Oberholzer – Q24, a carefully organised rescue operation took place. Tasked with a group of 35 members, Cat Allan – C77, assuming the position of Field Team Leader for the first time, took the lead in allocating tasks to the various teams.

Expected at camp by noon, the hikers were strategically absent after a midday thunderstorm. Hasty Team 1 found Andy, who was injured and disoriented, at the campsite. Hasty Team 2, using a local farmer’s trail, found hikers Elle and Freddy. Freddy had minor injuries, while Elle had a fractured ankle and needed careful help. Additional hands were sent out as the patient needed to be taken out by a stretcher with a specialised wheel designed to navigate mountainous terrain.

They revealed that fellow hiker Dean was lagging, a part of the unfolding story. As efforts continued, Andy’s debriefing and Elle’s transport pressed on. The rigging team prepared for the Kloof as Dean’s condition worsened and he became hypothermic, as scripted. The team discovered Dean unresponsive and initiated CPR, while it was also confirmed that two additional hikers had communicated their decision to stay on the Northern side of the Kloof until first light. The exercise concluded shortly after 1:30 AM, prompting all teams to return to the MCP for a debrief.

Gathered around steaming coffee pots, the team sought warmth after braving the cold mountain winter air. The members who transported patient Elle on a stretcher seemed slightly wearier than the rest, while the MCP team handling radios, incoming information, and ever-shifting strategies reflected a mix of contentment and fatigue. Soon it was time to indulge in a well-deserved three hours of sleep. Most of the team bedded down under the open sky, relying on sleeping bags and survival bags to ward off the dew induced chill, while a few sought a bit more comfort and warmth in their vehicles.

With eyes scarcely shut, the team got up with the sun, dressed and ready, their tired expressions mixed with an eagerness for whatever the new day might bring. Remember the hikers who chose to navigate the Kloof at first light? Well, Charlie and Ben found themselves in a staged predicament as Ben suffered a fall, resulting in a suspected broken femur. Ben’s inability to move was compounded by intense pain.

A hasty team swiftly responded to the known location, joined shortly after by a specialised rope team prepared for the extraction of patient Ben from the Kloof. Upon arrival, the hasty team assessed patient Ben’s condition, discovering a broken left femur and potential internal injuries. Given the severity (P1 classification), an airlift was requested. To extract Ben from the Kloof, a highline rescue was successfully employed. This technique involved using a stretcher with a jockey on the rope system to navigate the challenging terrain. The anticipated arrival time at the airlift landing zone was estimated to be around noon.

Through a partnership with Rocket HEMS, an air ambulance helicopter, a crucial hauling exercise was initiated. A safe Landing Zone was carefully set up for the Rocket Helicopter to land and take off. Rocket performed precise hauls, swiftly transporting Annelien Oberholzer – Q24 to Ben in the Kloof, showcasing its aerial capabilities. Following the patient’s assistance, Rocket conducted another haul, successfully transporting the patient back to the designated Landing Zone.

This mock call-out went beyond being a mere exercise; it showcased preparedness, teamwork, and a dedication to refining rescue skills. In the world of intense training, SARZA’s unwavering dedication and togetherness were evident. Knot by knot, skill by skill, SARZA’s readiness to rescue is as solid as the mountains they train on.

N86 Nina