BURIAL SEARCH & FIRST AID
The preparation is the basis for every ski tour. But no matter how much you inform yourself, avalanches are unpredictable and can go down at any time. Therefore it is very important to be familiar with the different procedures in case of an avalanche.
AVALANCHE TRANSCEIVER SYSTEM CHECK
At the beginning of every ski tour, an avalanche transceiver check should be carried out, because with the help of an avalanche transceiver, buried victims can be located more easily and found in sequence. A distinction is made between the simple avalanche transceiver check and the double check.
SIMPLE AVALANCHE TRANSCEIVER CHECK
All avalanche transceivers are set to transmit and the battery capacity is checked (min. 40 percent). The group leader has his device in group mode or search mode. He checks with the group members who are standing at a distance of about one meter whether the devices are transmitting correctly. Of course this system can also be used the other way round. The advantage of the group mode is the checking of other parameters besides the transmission power. The group mode works only in the near range. As soon as the check has been carried out, all avalanche transceivers are switched back to the transmit function.
DOUBLE AVALANCHE CHECK
During this check, both a receive and transmit check is performed on each individual avalanche transceiver. The double check is especially recommended for new groups. First the reception check is performed, whereby the leader sets his device to transmit and all other members are in search mode. The distance to the leader is about three meters and the distance and direction arrow is checked. Then the devices are switched to transmit and the leader performs the transmission check as in the simple avalanche transceiver check. Before starting the tour, all devices must be in transmit mode again.
SEARCH FOR BURIED PEOPLE
In emergency situations it is important to know all procedures and to know how to act. Therefore it is also useful to practice the procedure of a avalanche rescue several times every winter. Here are the facts that matter.
Skier avalanches are in most cases not monster avalanches, but rather small. On average, avalanches triggered by skiers are 50 metres wide and have a starting width of 45 to 50 centimetres. Companion rescue is the most important rescue measure for ski tours far away from slopes or other infrastructure.
So what to do if an avalanche has occurred and a group member is buried? First of all, make the emergency equipment ready and switch all avalanche transceivers in the vicinity from SEND to RECEIVE. Then you should get an overview of the situation. How many people are buried? What are the dimensions of the snow slab? Detection point and disappearance point of the buried subject are marked (if known). There are different procedures depending on the number of rescuers and the size of the avalanche. If there is no signal, you are just moving down the avalanche cone - this part of the search is called signal search. The search speed in this section is fast (fast walking pace, slow running pace).
From the moment of the first reception, the rescuer who has the reception first takes over the further search - this part is called rough search. Here, too, one should move quickly. With a modern 3-antenna avalanche transceiver this part of the search is relatively easy. The avalanche transceiver is NOT swivelled back and forth, but carried in a fixed position in front of the belly. From the range of about three meters the fine search begins. You now move much slower and go down to the snow cover with the avalanche transceiver. Here again the search device is NOT swivelled. At some point you come to the point where the distance indication increases again and the sound indicates that you are moving away from the transmitter. The point is marked where you had the lowest distance indication.
Here you move the search device in a parallel shift (rigid position) to the right and left to see if you get an even smaller distance indication. This process is called "crossed in". It depends on what distance the device shows. If it is in the close range (less than 1m), you have to do it less accurately than if the device displays two metres as the smallest distance. At the point with the smallest distance indication you start the probing. It is essential to probe systematically. The "square" spiral with a stick distance of about 30 centimetres has proved to be the best. Once the buried subject has been located with the probe, the latter gets stuck and you start shovelling from the valley side quickly but in an organized manner.
FIRST AID ON THE MOUNTAIN
In an emergency, every minute counts. Just as with the search for buried subjects, all steps should be in place for first aid. To refresh your knowledge, we have summarized the procedures for you in cooperation with the Bergrettung Tirol.
An avalanche incident is a race against time. In the first 15 minutes after an avalanche burial, there is the greatest chance of rescuing buried people alive. If the burial time is in the range of 15 to 35 minutes, the mortality rate rises to 60 percent. During this time interval, most buried victims die of suffocation due to blocked airways.
After the rescue of the comrades the first aid follows on the spot. The first priority is to free the respiratory tract of the buried victim as quickly as possible. Subsequently, the emergency algorithm according to the ABCDE scheme is applied, whereby a distinction is made between three scenarios.
STORAGE & HEAT
If the person is responsive and reacts to wake-up signals (e.g. pinching), he or she is conscious. Thus, the points ABC are already automatically completed.
- A as in Airway
- B for Breathing
- C as Circulation
Afterwards, the buried subject is excavated further and one devotes oneself to point D.
- D for Disability (Neurological status)
This is a check to see if there are any injuries - Can fingers and toes be moved? Is the sensitivity present in arms and legs? Do the pupils function?
Possible signs of problems may include tingling or movement disorders in arms or legs, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. If these signs occur, the injured person must be handled with special care and attention must be paid to a gentle positioning.
- E for exposure
Finally, check at point E whether any other injuries are visible and treat them if necessary.
As soon as the check is completed, take care that the injured person does not cool down any further until the organised rescue services arrive. For this purpose, the aluminium rescue blanket is used, which is wrapped over the head, back and abdomen as centrally and close to the body as possible. The patient should be protected as well as possible from wind and wetness and should be laid gently on an insulated surface, e.g. a rucksack.
STABLE LATERAL POSITION
If the person is not responsive, the airways (A - Airways) must be checked. Was there a respiratory cavity? Is there no snow in the airways? If there is snow in the airways, it must be removed. To do this, turn your head to the side, open your mouth and carefully remove the snow with your hands.
Only then is the head overstretched and at the mouth of the injured person obeys if breathing (B - Breathing) is present. In addition, with the hand laid on, it is observed whether the chest rises and falls. If breathing is normal, the person can be further excavated. Afterwards, the person is again protected from cooling down and brought into the stable lateral position. In this case, it is essential to observe the injured person continuously in order to resuscitate immediately if necessary in the event of respiratory arrest.
In the course of the COVID 19 pandemic, ventilation is not recommended during resuscitation due to a possible risk of infection. Should an individual decide to use ventilation during resuscitation, the following applies: If no respiration can be detected, start with the 5 initial breaths before the person is shovelled out. To do this, the head remains overextended and by means of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, enough air is blown into the lungs at one's own breathing rate so that the thorax rises and falls significantly.
The injured person is scooped out as quickly as possible and as soon as the body is placed on hard ground, one begins cardiopulmonary resuscitation - also called CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) - in a rhythm of 30 thoracic compressions to 2 breaths. The pressure point is in the middle of the thorax and the depth of pressure is approx. 5 cm. This process is more efficient if the injured person is freed from thick and soft layers of clothing. At a frequency of 100 compressions per minute, it is important to ensure complete relief during breaks. Since resuscitation is very strenuous, it is best to alternate between the two. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is performed until:
- 1 // The buried subject breathes normally again
- 2 // the organised rescue teams arrive
- 3 // the first-aiders are at the end of their tether
RESCUE BLANKET AS MULTI-TALENT
The rescue blanket can be found in almost every backpack or first aid kit. But many people do not even know that the Rescue Blanket is a true all-rounder. The Bergrettung Tirol has tested its application possibilities and found out a few real life hacks. Here you will find helpful tips and reasons why you should never tour without the rescue blanket.
IMPROVISED GLACIER GOGGLES
Not only can you see through the rescue blanket, but it also protects your eyes from the dangerous radiation on the glacier. In fact, the rescue blanket has almost the same properties as glacier goggles and can protect against snow blindness and sunburn.
TEMPORARY CARRYING STRAP
The rescue blanket, which is knotted together in the rope, has a tensile load of 270 to 470 kilograms, so it is perfect for carrying injured people in a makeshift way. The prerequisites for this are that the blanket is as good as new and that it is knotted in a so-called weaver's knot.
Of course, the primary function of the emergency blanket should not be underestimated. The body temperatures of injured persons can drop rapidly, whereby the rescue blanket protects against hypothermia and counteracts heat loss. For this purpose, the injured person must be protected with the foil at an early stage. Furthermore, the blanket should never be placed directly on the skin, but always over the lowest layer of clothing.
The correct use is what counts! One technique here is the diaper technique, where the foil is pulled through under the jacket at the back (resting on the lowest layer of clothing). Then it is unfolded and the lower part is pulled through between the legs and wrapped up like a diaper on the stomach. The upper part can optionally be used for the head. This offers the advantage of mobility and the foil is not damaged by wind.
GOLD OR SILVER
Many people believe that one side of the blanket is for cooling and the other to warm the body. However, which side is used makes no difference. Whether the gold or silver side is on the body is irrelevant - the main thing is that the blanket is used correctly.
GOOD TO KNOW
The surface of the ceiling reflects light and can therefore make it easier to find people during the day. However, the film also makes it more difficult to find people with the help of thermal imaging cameras. It blocks the infrared radiation of the body and you are therefore invisible to the thermal camera under the rescue blanket.
We would like to thank our partners for their helpful support in the research and preparation of avalanche knowledge.