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Once the bottom had been rigged, the crew at the top attached the litter to the track lines (photo 4). The high point made getting the litter over the edge quite easy, but if you can't find a high point, you will have to get a plumb point before putting the litter over (see box). The person in charge topside had to carefully coordinate this part of the operation between the team members moving the litter over the edge and the team member operating the lowering system. If not, there would be a significant, sudden drop for the victim being lowered.
Past this point, the operation was simple. The descent was controlled by the team member at the lowering device, guided by the team member in charge of topside operations. Additional control was provided by two members at the bottom who acted as safeties by pulling out on the track lines, as guided by the team member in charge of the bottom operation, to slow the descent when necessary (photo 5). Our descent was very easy and was stopped several times for several minutes to take photos for this article (photo 6). When the litter reached its destination at the bottom, it was unhooked from the track lines and lowering line and prepared for turnover to EMS.
With practice, a high line operation can be accomplished within a half-hour by a six- to eight-person team. The major difficulty is that the operation consists of many technically difficult steps. A high line needs technically competent people working at both the top and bottom ends. There's very little that can be done by untrained personnel under the direction of a rescuer, so it takes a lot of research and practice before a team is ready to try it under working conditions.
RUEL DOUVILLIER is a captain in the New Orleans, LA, Fire Department, where he has served for 12 years, mostly with technical rescue squads. He is the department's special operations training coordinator and the task force leader of Southeast Louisiana Task Force 1 (SELA TF-1), a Type III urban search and rescue (USAR) team. Douvillier served for 20 years in the U.S. Army as a medic, infantryman and paratrooper and five years as a paramedic with New Orleans Emergency Medical Services.