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Focus on  - - -  The New Club Stretchers

By Ken Dobbs

It was decided at a committee meeting held a couple of years back that a stretcher should be included in the club tackle.  This stretcher would have to be suitable for cave rescue of Mendip.  Many existing types were discussed at length, but none of the known types seem to fill our requirements, if it was strong enough, it was too rigid, and rigid stretchers don’t go round corners easily; and so on & so forth; committee meeting followed committee meeting, and the question was discussed, chewed over, deferred till the next meeting, as only a B.E.C. Committee can, until it became obvious we should have to produce something ourselves if we were to incorporate something of all our ideas.

Firstly we approached Joseph Bryant & Co. with the idea that we could get our plans transferred to something practical, but although they were most helpful the initial cost was much higher than we had expected so there’re was nothing else for it – if we wanted a stretcher we should have to produce it ourselves.  There followed further months of discussion regarding materials etc.  Finally a length of canvas was produced and the sewing started; altogether there was about 50 hours of it – on the face of it perhaps it doesn’t sound much, buy anyone who has tried sewing canvas to rope and leather by hand will know that there’s more to it than that.

Then yet another hold up occurred.  It became obvious as the stretcher neared completion that lifting up drop of perhaps 70 feet would not altogether be safe if the lift was to be taken on the side handling ropes.  The only way round this snag was to take a direct lift from the occupant of the stretcher, and undoubtedly this would be best accomplished with a parachute harness. As the main users of such harnesses, the R.A.F. were contacted, and were helpful in putting us in contact with a firm dealing in such contrivances.  After more delay the long awaited harness arrived and was duly fitted.

Half way through August the first tests were carried out at Redcliffe Community Centre.  These were for handling only and went quite well. The following Sunday further tests were carried out on Mendip and handling tests were successfully on rough ground near the Belfry.  As the earlier test had been o.k. it was decided to press straight on with underground tests in Bog Hole.  Bog was chosen because of its convenience and also because it supplies the worst possible rescue condition i.e. a tight cave with and extremely low roof.  The only person to be mentioned in connection with these tests is Pat Ifold who volunteered to be the guinea-pig for our first underground tests, a most unpleasant job.  To move the stretcher and its ‘tenant’ 36 feet took 45 minutes and a team of 4 were just the flakers in that time.  Unfortunately during these tests the canvas showed signs of giving around the handholds, and would certainly not stand prolonged use.  Apart from the weakness of the canvas the design had been a success and a good deal has been learned about the underground handling already.  The damage to the canvas was such that the stretcher would require complete rebuilding and this was more than anyone was prepared to take on, Joseph Bryant’s were again contacted and thee experimental work being already done a lower figure than the original one was quoted and accepted.

The stretcher is now complete and it is to be kept at the Belfry.  It is hoped that it will never have to be used.