417 Sqn Med Tech—from trainee to trainer

417 Combat Support Squadron Search and Rescue Training
Medical Technician, Sailor First class Andrew Cleveland patiently waits for the CF-146 Search and Rescue helicopter to take off to continue the training outside of 4 Wing Cold Lakke on October 6, 2020. Photo: Private Connie Valin, 4 Wing Imaging 20201006CK100380D002

Lt Rachel Brosseau, Public Affairs Officer

In 2018 the Search and Rescue Technicians (SAR Tech) at Combat Support Squadrons (CSS) were centralized to the various search and rescue and transport and rescue squadrons in Canada. In their place, the Medical Technician trade put out the request for volunteers to complete specialized training to become CSS medical technicians (Med Tech). Sailor First Class (S1) Andrew Cleveland, currently at 417 CSS, was one of the first generation Med Techs to volunteer to take on this new and exciting challenge.

When asked why he wanted to volunteer for this new role he responded, “I was looking for a challenge and the position had pretty big boots to fill by replacing SAR techs at the CSS in a different capacity. Being a part of something new within the CAF is such a unique experience and you get to help shape the future of this specialty.”

And so the journey to become a CSS Med Tech began in May 2018 for S1 Cleveland.

Going from working on the ground to working out of a helicopter supporting search and rescue missions required the Med Techs to learn some different skills and capabilities. During the next 15 months, S1 Cleveland underwent extensive training from SAR technicians covering many different topics including the basics of search and rescue operations, medical scenarios in a variety of environments, and essential survival skills.

The Med Techs spent a lot of time in the air being taught how to conduct different search patterns. Every situation is unique and can require a different type of search pattern in order to develop the best rescue plan. Once the rescue plan is determined it is then necessary to get on the ground and out of the CH-146 Griffon which can require being hoisted down from the helicopter. The Med Techs were taught different hoisting skills for themselves, equipment, and how to bring up a patient. The double up as shown in the photo below, is one technique that is deployed when the patient can be safely brought up and doesn’t require the use of a rescue sled.

Navigation skills by GPS as well as map and compass were another portion of the training. Sometimes where the Med Tech is dropped of ends up being a different location from where they will be picked up, requiring them to navigate to the new location. Strong navigational skills are important, as things look very different on the ground than from the bird’s eye view of the helicopter. Survival techniques were also taught above and beyond what is provided on basic survival courses, “as there is the potential we may be left behind in austere environment should the aircraft or hoist have a mechanical issue. We need to be able to not only provide care to our patient but also ensure our safety using a survival pattern,” explains S1 Cleveland. The students put their training to the test during numerous different medical scenarios in more challenging environments under the watchful eye of their instructors.

S1 Cleveland remarks that one of the most important things he learned was “…to become self-sufficient in everything we do as we are trained and work as solo operators.” Even though he is a solo operator, S1 Cleveland emphasized that search and rescue really is a team effort. “The SAR aircraft captain and I work on mission planning while the other pilot and flight engineer (FE) go start the helicopter. The FE is the Med Tech’s right hand man, he performs safety checks on us, he has control of the hoist to get the Med Tech where we need to go and assist in patient care in the back. I have trained pilots and FE’s on additional medical training so when I do ask for their help they are a little more comfortable in doing what I ask. Don’t forget maintenance those guys are work horses keeping us serviceable and assisting us by towing the aircraft, helping pack the aircraft, and picking up meals if we need it.”

S1 Cleveland explains, “A good example is the arctic mission last year called out for two people injured and ended up being six. Luckily, we were able to land at the area and immediately I got out and started to assess the patients. Once they shut down the helicopter the two pilots came to the area I was to help me with whatever I needed to accomplish the mission while the FE stayed behind and reconfigured the helicopter to accommodate the amount of people we were bringing.”

S1 Cleveland has now been in the role for over a year and said some of his highlights have been “Seeing the smiles on people’s faces when we help out with events such as book drives, tours, familiarity flights, and also being there for someone on what might be their worst day (also a challenge). Every mission, every training flight is always different and I’m always learning something new. On the other hand there are many challenges to the job including: not having that experienced SAR technician on the flight to provide the direct feedback on how you performed. The unknown, you don’t know where you’ll find the person, if you find them, what’s wrong with them, what the environment is like, and what the actual situation involves.

There are currently three CSS Med Techs at 417 CSS squadron (there are 11 in all of Canada) and are the only fully qualified Combat Support Squadron. Now S1 Cleveland is teaching the next generation of CSS Med Techs. He teaches all of the same things he went through during training and passes on some of his own experience. He also assists them in developing their critical thinking and decision-making skills. The unique thing with S1 Cleveland is that he is able to continue coaching and mentoring the new members when they are operational on squadron so there is still someone on squadron to support them in their new role.

417 Combat Support Squadron Search and Rescue Training
Medical Technician, Sailor First class Andrew Cleveland,radios pilots to circle around to continue with training, outside of 4 Wing Cold Lake on October 6, 2020. Private Connie Valin, 4 Wing Imaging
417 Combat Support Squadron Search and Rescue Training
Medical Technician, Sailor First class Andrew Cleveland hangs on to Lieutenant Rachel Brousseau while hoisting her up as part of the rescue training, outside of 4 Wing Cold Lake on October 6, 2020. Photo: Private Connie Valin, 4 Wing Imaging
417 Combat Support Squadron Search and Rescue Training
Flight Engineer Corporal Alain McGraw hoists up the rescue basket in the Cf-146 helicopter and continues training, outside of 4 Wing Cold Lake on October 6, 2020. Photo: Private Connie Valin, 4 Wing Imaging