By bush stretcher

A carry of any length, especially in rough terrain, requires eight stretcher bearers at any one time and two relief crews. Many newcomers to search and rescue regard this number of 24 carriers per casualty as excessive until they have first-hand experience of a long carry. Few walking parties will have sufficient numbers, but it may be possible to obtain assistance from members of other parties.

After organising sufficient carriers, a stretcher will need to be made. In spite of its crude and rustic appearance, it is difficult to improve on the bush stretcher (Figure 40.1) for a long carry. It is reasonably rigid for a comfortable ride, but not so rigid as to put a large stress on any part. It can be quickly made from readily available material. Most important of all, it allows eight people to share the load. Its building requires a suitable cutting tool (a saw is most convenient, but it has been done with a pocket knife) and a good supply of cord.

Stretcher carrying is easier with a fair degree of organisation. A ‘scout’ should go ahead to pick the best route, marking it if necessary. Next should come a group clearing a path for the passage of the stretcher. The stretcher will be carried by eight people on the bearers’ shoulders unless traversing, when it is usually best to carry on shoulders on one side and hands on the other. There must be one person in charge of the carry to synchronise lifting and lowering, to organise relief parties and to generally manage the carry. The patient should always be comfortably but securely attached to the stretcher, usually with rope over ample padding, such as clothing or sheets of bark.

One designated person, usually with first-aid skills, should monitor the patient’s condition and comfort, including arranging for toilet stops and making sure that branches do not scratch the patient’s face. Motion sickness, which is generally worse when the patient cannot see the horizon, can be a problem during long stretcher or sled trips. Turning the patient’s head to one side can sometimes ease the problem.

If the bush is reasonably open and not too steep, the stretcher can be carried continuously at about 2 km per hour. If the going is hard the pace will be much slower. When obstacles such as rocks or large logs are encountered, it will usually be best to position people over and beyond them and to pass the stretcher across hand to hand without the carriers moving their positions. This is usually faster and much more secure than trying to clamber over with the stretcher. When ascending or descending steep slopes, particularly if the ground is loose or slippery, it is wise to belay the stretcher to a tree or rock. It may then be possible for the carrying party to move down with the stretcher, using it to check themselves if they slip. In many cases, moving directly up or down the fall line is easier and safer than traversing.

Making a bush stretcher
The stretcher is shown in Figure 40.1:

  • Obtain two firm, straight saplings, 5–6 m long when trimmed, and four shorter pieces, approximately 4 cm in diameter and 1.2 m long. Assemble all available cord in the party.
  • Place long saplings on the ground, with their butts at opposite ends and about 60 cm apart. Lash crosspieces as shown, using diagonal and square lashings. All crosspieces must be placed on top of the stretcher poles and sprung down into position as required. Bottom sides of stretcher poles must be trimmed as cleanly and smoothly as possible for comfort on bearers’ shoulders.
  • Trim the ends of the crosspieces carefully, leaving no sharp edges. Lace across the stretcher with cords, fairly loosely, as shown. Secure each turn with a half hitch.
  • Carefully pad the stretcher with groundsheets, sleeping bags, spare clothing, etc., or if unavailable then sheets of bark covered with bracken make a very good substitute.

It is generally recommended that the patient be lashed to the stretcher, placing clothing or sheets of bark under the lashings to prevent chafing.