Medical rescue training exercise held at Gariep Dam, Free State
By Julius Fleischman, Free State College of Emergency Care and SAMRO
Every year since 2017, the Gariep Dam Medical Rescue Training Exercise, held in conjunction with the Free State College of Emergency Care (Free State), North West College of Emergency Care (North West), the Durban University of Technology (KwaZulu-Natal), the University of Johannesburg (Gauteng), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Eastern Cape), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (Western Cape), Mountain Club of South Africa and Rescue South Africa, contributes to the hands-on training of rescue workers by providing clinically accurate medical rescue simulations in real-world settings. We are glad to see that each year the lessons learned from the previous exercises are incorporated in each current year’s planning process to continuously improve on the real value of learning that is gained from the exercise.
Retrospectively viewing the planning inputs for the 2019 Gariep Dam Medical Rescue Training Exercise, we can proudly acknowledge that the work done in previous years again reflected strongly and contributed once more to moving us up to the next level.
The exercises are known for their dynamic curriculum and development of state-of-the-art techniques. We are constantly developing new and innovative rescue techniques every year, improving on old techniques and working with manufacturers to develop or improve equipment to meet rescuers’ needs.
In certain areas this results in only incremental improvements; however, each iteration, each small step forward, is to the benefit of National and Regional cooperation under the umbrella of emergency medical rescue. Prevention, training, preparedness and response, all facets are addressed and increases our overall readiness for and the level of competence in dealing with, emergency situations in South Africa.
Even as some big steps were taken, larger ones are yet to be taken to ensure that we can work and train together effectively in real-world simulated scenarios. We have realised that the scenarios presented and evaluated in these training exercises can realistically occur at anytime and anywhere in any of our respective provinces. Much can be achieved by sharing of experiences between the different training intuitions and we hope we all can learn in practical terms about the successes achieved and the challenges we face in the area of emergency medical care and rescue services.
During the event, the ongoing evaluation provides an objective assessment not only of the individuals and teams operating in the scenario, but also of how training and education leads to the selection of equipment and methods in answer to each unique challenge. Careful examination of the results of the evaluations ultimately carries through to adjustments made in training and education and the iterative improvement of planning the next training exercise to ensure that it remains relevant and of practical value.
One thing that sets apart the Gariep Dam Medical Rescue Training Exercise is our dedication to providing students with practical, real-world experience. To this end, all instructors are professionals working in the disciplines they teach. The instructors include advanced life support paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, search and rescue team members, as well as river guides and military personnel. While instructors come from a wide variety of fields, they all share a passion for saving lives and teaching others to do the same.
Probably the most important and largest future contribution is developing and fostering life-long participation in training and education. As one becomes more senior, providing training to next-generation crew, as well as peers. We do this every year so that we can: (1) Keep all our students and instructors as safe as possible; (2) Be able to train and teach how to save lives in the most effective way possible and; (3) To uphold our reputation and maintain our training and standards to the highest possible level.
Over the years the Gariep Dam Medical Rescue Training Exercise training methodology was developed and built on a three-tiered foundation of theory (knowledge), skill (practical ability) and experience (wisdom). This foundation of theory, skill and experience is further reinforced by drill training (developing muscle memory via repetition), scenario training (applying judgement and decision making to the unknown) and also instructing in-turn (mastery of an activity).
The focus of the exercises is to develop rescuers by means of knowledge and skills that are gained. By being exposed to drill and scenario training, an understanding amongst the crew is realised, so that students and instructors become able to adapt and improvise to any kind of rescue situation. Rescues are never textbook. The exercises make room for training that provides both success stories and lessons for the future to enhance the effectiveness of joint rescue activities. This is extremely valuable for future needs development in both national and international cooperation under the auspices of partnership agreements among higher education sectors.
This year’s training exercise also incorporated the processes of generating cooperation between different public authorities, volunteer organisations and private sector actors. This reminded us (training institutions) and the authorities of the possibility to also use the capabilities and capacity of other actors in the case of a large-scale emergency. Further training on this, at both international and national level, should be deliberately included in all future events, as it has a proven record of being invaluable in many actual historical events.
The significant importance of these training exercises lays therein that future practitioners not only possess a theoretical background from their training and education, but also have a reflective practical background provided through innovative measures (eg real-world simulation) as a key component of teaching, learning and assessment.
Lastly, the 2019 Gariep Dam Medical Rescue Training Exercise did once more help to develop the right attitude amongst all the participants. A good attitude results in a great culture, which makes a big difference to how we realise our vision and mission in training.
The final outcome of these exercises is thus to assist in enhancing individual performance and the ability to fit into a working team of each upcoming generation of practitioners, ultimately benefitting patients by ensuring qualified emergency medical care and rescue practitioners are highly trained and reliable to provide quality service to the public.
Source: Julius Fleishman,