I had the honor of attending the International Commission for Alpine Rescue meeting in Soldeu Andorra. I represented an eight-person delegation from the USA Mountain Rescue Association. In addition to our delegation, some 50 countries were represented in the 400-person meeting. The meeting was divided into four commissions: avalanche, terrestrial (high-angle rope rescue), aviation, and mountain emergency medicine. Here is a brief synopsis of what I felt was interesting.
Airbag backpack are proliferating. Carbon cartridges are the norm in Europe because they save weight, but these are not available in USA to gas import restrictions. Most US models will be available with refillable compressed air, via scuba tank, including those from Mammut, Arva, and Ortovox. There’s a trend for the balloon to wrap around the head/neck to possibly prevent trauma—but there’s no data yet to support this. The Pieps/Black Diamond Jet Force fan airbag deflates after burial to possibly create an airpocket—but again, no data. A new Aerosize airbag is a Polish company that comes in separate pack that can be used with any backpack.
Besides airbags, several teams including those from Wyoming USA and Switzerland focused on avalanche prevention with sponsors to produce blogs, posters, videos, and social media. Reference: backcountryzero.com from Teton County SAR.
Italians with 7000 responders for alpine, canyon and cave rescues gave both a demonstration and a series of lectures that discussed simplicity. They keep gear universal so all 27 stations have exactly same gear. They follow ICAR recommends 3-stage autolock biners and 10 mm ropes. They do not use mechanical devices since the devices tend to have problems with frozen, wet, and dirty ropes. They showed two autolock knot alternatives to a prussic, called a bolognese and taz knots. For rappel/belay, they use the Kong Gigi for one person and the Kong Totem for heavier loads. Sometimes they use a W configuration with no breaking devices other than carabiners. They use flat single overhand bend to tie ropes together with a 40-60 cm tail which is easy to pass over the edge and through carabiners. ICAR recommends flat single overhand bend for low-tension and double fisherman for air or high tension to connect ropes. Many used Petzl direct connect, instead of Purcell prusiks.
Lots of helicopter rescues in Europe with both hoist and long line. One exhibiting company showed a helicopter/airplane mounted cell phone detector. The Italians showed a hand-held model that detected buried cell phones in the Rigopiano Hotel avalanche. These detects cell phone pings, like a portable cell tower, but the victim phone must be on. The aircraft mounted version from Lifeseeker is not available yet in US.
Recco has a helicopter mounted long-range receiver, up to 200 meters or more. Not available yet in US. Barryvox has a long-range receiver antenna, which is already used in the US.
The medical commission discussed a variety of topics. Intermittent CPR guidelines need to be reviewed—the short version is that it’s ok to pause CPR for transport. A study suggested that on avalanche burials with multiple victims, it’s ok to do CPR for 5-7 minutes for initial victim extricated prior to searching for second victim: the conundrum is do you dig out everyon first, or do CPR on the first person you dig out? CPR prior to complete extrication from avalanche burial may help save time if patient supine or sitting—up to 4 minutes, but you’re doing CPR in a hole, which is difficult. Trauma likely higher percentage of avalanche fatalities than previously thought—possibly up to 30%. Selective spinal immobilization and clearing C-spine in the field—a big trend in the US—was not discussed. A talk reinforced that avalanche survival with complete burial, the only good outcome is bystander rescue with short burial and quick return of life. Fatalities directly correlate to duration of burial and air pocket, and if a professional rescue team is called in, it probably is too late.