August 23, 2018

Spend A Day With Rick Lipke

Rick Lipke, the founder of Conterra Inc, normally likes to work behind the scenes and doesn’t care much for the spotlight. But our team knows he’s too interesting of a guy to not share how cool his day can be. I followed Rick on a journey through his normal work day, asking many questions and seeing exactly how a CEO of a small local business spends his time.

Rick inspecting some parts in the sewing shop

His day tends to start out with multiple meetings around the shop, checking in with the production engineer and the front secretary. After wading through about 60 emails, he gets to work on his various projects in either the machine shop, sewing section, or the fabrication shop across the street. Most of his time is spent developing or testing products, and we occasionally get to see sneak peeks of what he’s working on or even help with the testing. Watching the 3-D printer is absolutely mesmerizing when we get the chance.

We started off in his office. His table is filled with prototypes, blueprints, notes and other useful tools in his designing process. His whiteboard is split up with notes all over it, showing all the details he has to think about when it comes to creating such crucial equipment that will potentially have the lives of many in its hands. It takes a lot of development to keep up with an ever changing industry, and it requires new innovations to get there.

I started the interview by asking how his processes of manufacturing has changed over the years to fit these changes.

“That’s a great question. Well I think the biggest change now is that, at least on the machine shop side, I have someone that I can hand off product development to after I come up with a concept and a prototype. For instance,  just recently I came up with an idea for a new rigging plate for rescue work and I drew it up in the computer over the weekend and printed it out on the 3D printer to give to Todd, our engineer, some idea of what I was shooting for. Then I handed it to Todd and told him the target strength and then he spent about two weeks workin' on it so I didn’t have to. But for sewing, not much has changed. I still do the entire process myself up until a working sample is done.”

Then how do you test your products?

“Ooh well it depends on which product. If it’s a machine shop product its initial testing involves proof of concept and strength which we can do right here in the shop. And then after that we’ll send out prototypes to various people for them to field test. If all that goes well we then will send a production model to Triangle Park North Carolina to the UL test facility and have them test it by Underwriters Laboratories. As far as the sewing goes, I do all of the sample work because there isn’t any strength testing, usually, unless we’re doing rescue work and then it goes back to whole testing in the lab. For bags and packs I just come up with an idea, make a prototype, then decide what kind of manufacturing, time, and materials it’s gonna take to actually make it and then I make a sample. And if it works I’ll send it to Dave (the production manager) and have Dave put it in production.”

When it comes to his process of creating a product from start to finish, it takes some thoughtful preparation. Once he has decided there is a need for something in the marketplace and that his idea is unique enough to go into it, he begins his process of creating the product.

His sewing products tend to take a bit more time before they are completed.

“First is concept, just pen and ink drawings, and then after concept I take it to patterning. Sometimes that can take weeks to get the pattern right if it’s a complex backpack. After I get the patterning all knocked out then I build prototypes and make sure that it’s actually buildable by our sewers. Then comes costing; deciding how much material is needed and how much labor cost is. And if all that works out then we go to production.”

So it’s like the same thing you do in the machine shop? You design it, make sure it can be built, and then it goes to production over in the machine shop?

“Right. Make sure it can be built some’s easier for me over there because I come up with an idea and a prototype and then Todd has to make the machinery make the product. And then after that it has to go to a third party testing agency because it’s life safety equipment.”

Rick’s origins in rescue work was a little unplanned for him, but it brought him to a life-long career of providing equipment that made saving lives much easier. We asked him to talk a little bit about his background in the field.

“I got here by mistake.” We both chuckled a little at that statement. “I did. I started making sewn products when I was in college because I was a climber and a backpacker and at the time there weren’t a lot of really good products out there in that market because it was quite small, and I was quite poor.”

This caused him to teach himself all the ropes, which consisted of sewing, welding, and moving metals, making all of these things for himself at first.

Rick posing on an Ice-Sar search and rescue car in Iceland

“I was able to put my way through college working in dorm rooms sewing martial arts bags and climbing equipment. Then after college I spent a few years working in a psychiatric hospital and it was the worst job I ever had ever and I figured that starving was better. So I quit and started making stuff in my house and never looked back. That was in 1985, and I’ve been self-employed ever since.”

His classes started with the same sort of idea; finding that there was a need for something that wasn’t currently being provided. So, as Rick does, he made it happen.

Rick, second on the left, teaching in Bolivia in 1995

“I worked for many years teaching wilderness medicine for a company called Wilderness Medical Associates and I taught all over the world for them and really learned how to teach through them. It was an incredible internship into adult education. I used those tools learned there to improve teaching in the emergency medical field for EMT classes, etc., and still do that a bit. But the classes I’m most excited about are the rope rescue courses. I started teaching those mostly because the type of rescue perspective that I adhere to was not really taught in the 1980's and 90’s and so I started to teach it myself and have just been continuing doing that for thirty some years.”

Rick’s job can be just as busy as anyone else’s, but he has many opportunities for excitement. Being a man who loves to problem solve, create, and has a mind running constantly, he has some pretty interesting outlooks on what the best part of his job is.

“I get excited working the problem; working the challenge of a new device. That excites me. I get really excited when I’m teaching and can convey a complex subject matter to a student and have that student get it. That still makes me all giddy. And I like providing employment to people. I think that’s cool.”

When it comes to where he gets his best ideas, it’s from his students too.

Rick instructing on a-frames in Taiwan

“That’s both for the sewn products and the machine products. I watch how students interact with current products and that leads to either refinement of the current products or coming up with some completely new product that doesn’t currently exist. I think that’s my biggest inspiration or incubator for ideas.”

His global connections have brought his products across seas, making waves in many more communities and sparking friendships around the world. One of his biggest partnerships is with Ice-Sar in Iceland. He makes at least one trip every other year there for business and some fun. His outlook on branching out is that it gives you a cultural experience you can’t get by staying at home.

“There’s an entire world out there with different thoughts, different philosophies, different uses, different needs and you have to go there...You have to see people in their own countries and how they interact and by doing that you get a better perspective on how to make equipment for them.”

Rick teaching a course in Iceland

His inspirations come from many different places, and most times the most conventional sources can strike the biggest spark.

“Any product where the form follows the function is inspiring to me. Especially products that are elegant and cunning in their design and simplicity. I continue to be inspired by Steve Jobs and Apple computer because of their philosophy on how to actually design a product that someone has to use on a daily basis. Instead of forcing the people to use what you’ve got, they change the product to make it easy for people to use, and I think that’s really cool.”

After a long time of hovering and a barrage of questions, I ended with a request for some words of wisdom and any principals he might live by before I let Rick get back to his busy day.

Rick smirked and I knew a joke was coming.

“I don’t have any principals.” He chuckled and then took some time to really think on what rules he lives by.

“Oh okay! One is pay your bills on time. Two is treat employees the way you’d wanna be treated. And the third is floss. That’s it, that’s my flossophy of life.”

That response definitely had me laughing and putting my palm to my forehead. That had to be the dad joke of the decade.

Thank you those are great answers!

“Well they’re probably all lies.”

After leaving me chuckling to myself at his wit, Rick was off to inspect the squeaky noise from one of the machines in the shop. I think this leaves all of us with a new perspective on life. He was right, we should all floss, and we know that no one really does.  

Rick and a friend smiling for a photo in the Andes during his Mountain Rescue skills course he taught the Pan-American Alpine Guides Association
November 04, 2016

Made in the USA

I am sure many of you are familiar with the benefits of buying American made products. Here at Conterra, our entire brand is manufactured within the state of Washington. Obviously, we are passionate about American-made. We love the fact that buying American-made products creates jobs in our communities, reinvests our dollars in our economy, supports humane working environments and stems from more environmentally sustainable practices. That being said, I am not here to tell you why you should buy our American-made products. Instead I would like to share with you the top four reasons why we choose to manufacture our products here in the USA.

We are intimately involved in the manufacturing of our products.

  • We see, feel and test all the materials we use. If there is a problem we can easily address it in person.
  • We want our products to not only last, but also perform as they are intended.

We know the people manufacturing our designs.

  • We are grateful that we can help provide them with jobs and it drives us to be more successful.
  • We know they have a safe working environment.
  • We know they earn a living wage.
  • We can communicate. We can ask questions, they can ask questions. The integrity of the design can always be maintained.

We are committed to investing in our community and our country.

  • We use the highest quality materials available. Such as YKK zippers and Duraflex buckles (both made in USA).
  • As we invest in our community we are able to become involved in our community. Those community members in turn hold us accountable and help us make our products better. That’s what it means to invest; you see a return upon your spending.

We believe that Americans will realize the investment they are making by purchasing American-made products.

There you see, not only is manufacturing American-made products a philosophy near to our hearts, but we also believe it is a smart business decision.  


April 26, 2016

Tactical Medics vs. Rescue Task Force Medics

 What are the similarities and differences between these critical functions?

Written by
Jim Morrissey- ALCO EMS
Terrorism Preparedness Director
Senior SF FBI Tactical Medic


The simple answer is that tactical medics are “attached” to a tactical law enforcement team and are considered part of the team. Whereas a Rescue Task Force is a trained, but hastily formed group of EMS medical providers (private and/or fire based) that partner with law enforcement on scene and enter a newly secured area such as an active shooter incident, to provide triage, emergent care and extrication to the casualties.

Both Tactical Medics and Rescue Task Force personnel provide emergent care in less than ideal situations, often under significant stress and in chaotic, sometimes hostile environments. Both work very closely with law enforcement during planning, training and actual events. Most Rescue Task Force members are outfitted with ballistic vests and helmets, and likewise, almost without exception, Tactical Medics are protected with body armor and helmets. Both Rescue Task Force and Tactical Medics are specifically trained and equipped to deal with ballistic, blast and other violence-induced trauma. Rescue Task Force members wear their usual daily uniform (Fire/ EMS/ law enforcement) and are typically dispatched during their normal shift. Tactical Medics wear the uniform of the tactical team they are attached to and are physically located with the team, or just outside of the “hot zone”.

Tactical Medics

Tactical Medics are somewhat analogous to the hockey team trainer who travels with the team and is there primary to provide medical aid to the team, whether the injury or ailment is serious or not. The most common items requested of the Tactical Medic are Band-Aids and ibuprofen. However, the Tactical Medic must also be prepared to provide life-saving interventions to team members and other on scene law enforcement. The Tactical Medic will provide initial medical care as needed to victims, bystanders, and perpetrators once the scene is secured. They will transfer patient care to a standard EMS unit if further care and transportation to the hospital is needed.

Tactical EMS models

Some law enforcement agencies (LEA) send officers/agents/deputies to EMT school, or comprehensive tactical medical classes and those officers may become the default Tactical Medic for the team. That may be a workable solution; however, it is unlikely those individuals have the medical experience and patient assessment skills needed to be the best medical practitioner in high-risk, high-stress situations.
There are countless workable models for the incorporation of a medical contingency plan for law enforcement operations. Some of the more common models are listed below:

 - Officer/Agent/Trooper/medic- These are sworn law enforcement officers (LEO) having dual roles as an "operator" and medic; they have law enforcement powers and can certainly protect themselves from potential threats.

 - Agency contract- In this case the LEA has a contract or MOU with a local EMS provider (Fire or private EMS service, or hospital medical group) to provide up-close medical care. Some agencies put the medics through a Reserve Officer school, so that they can be armed as LEOs.

 - Individual contract- An individual or a team of individuals are under contract or MOU with the LEA for providing medical coverage for SWAT missions and training.

 - ALS Stand by- In this outdated model, there are no Tactical Medics, but LE will stage a standard ambulance some distance away and they would respond to the scene after being secured by law enforcement.

There have been two major shifts in doctrine related to law enforcement operations over the last 10 years. One change focuses on aggressively going after active shooters with whatever assets happen to be on hand, instead of waiting for a SWAT team.

The second major change is recognizing the need for emergency medical contingency planning. This includes training all tactical personnel and line officers in the basics of self-care and buddy care with the focus on bleeding control and the addition of a dedicated Tactical Medic.

An aspect of this doctrine shift (in addition to the Tactical Medic) is - at minimum notifying –but ideally involving local EMS and hospitals about planned or developing law enforcement operations that have a high risk for injuries. SWAT teams are increasingly including a dedicated tactical medical component, and medical threat assessment as part of their organizational structure.

Learning about Tactical EMS
Many in the EMS/medical field have demonstrated and voiced interest in exploring what is required to get into the field of tactical medicine. In addition to the pre-existing medical training one already has (i.e. physician, nurse, paramedic, EMT, etc.), it is highly recommended to procure specific tactical medical education.

Programs such as NAEMT Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC), Tactical Life Saver and others like it are one or two days in length and have been well received by the EMS and LE community. The International School of Tactical Medicine (ISTM) offers a 2 week intensive program aimed at medical practitioners who need basic training on law enforcement operations, and how to work within a law enforcement team as the medic.

Scenario of a tactical mission
On a typical planned SWAT operation there are several phases and steps that take place well before the “hit”. Most often, the mission is a planned high risk search or arrest warrant. After getting a "warning order", the SWAT team operators and all of the support elements (medical, communications, negotiators, etc.) typically convene at a Forward Staging Area (FSA).

A briefing will occur, where mission goals, subjects, and target location layouts are reviewed. Depending on the nature of the mission and Operations Security (OP-SEC) issues, the tactical medic may coordinate with the local EMS transport provider to have an ALS ambulance stage close to the location.

The Tactical Medic is the logical liaison to the on-scene EMS assets that support law enforcement operations. Typically the Tactical Medic will have a face-to-face meeting with EMS supporting units if they are available.


Rescue Task Force

Prompt integration of EMS medical rescue teams with Law Enforcement escort (Rescue Task Force) into an active shooter and other violent threat incidents is a recently adopted concept in the civilian first responder world. The introduction of the Rescue Tack Force (RTF) to the wounded casualties should be just after the threat has been eliminated, when the scene has been deemed relatively secure. Historically, Fire and EMS crews staged a distance away until LE methodically secured the scene before permitting EMS to access victims. This practice is being phased out and is being replaced with a more patient centric and life-saving approach.

There are two priorities in these types of events.

  1. Eliminate the threat (LE responsibility)
  2. Provide immediate life-saving interventions ASAP (everyone’s responsibility)


In terms of providing life-saving interventions, there are four ways to render medical aid in these types of situations.

  1. Bystanders/ victims provide care to one another prior to any responder arrival.
  2. LE rapidly extricates, escorts victims to a safe area where EMS is waiting and provides medical aid.
  3. LE secures the area and THEY provide life-saving interventions at the point of wounding (POW).
  4. LE secures the area and brings in the RTF under a force protection model.


The RTF focus should be on quick initial medical assessments and to provide life-saving interventions on scene at the point of wounding (POW) if needed. This should be done in concert with efforts to extricate victims to a Casualty Collection Point (CCP) where a secondary triage, treatment and transport can be provided. The RTF group should use a pre-entry LE/EMS checklist to insure important issues are addressed. The law enforcement aspect of the RTF is focused on escorting and protecting the medical member of the RTF. Urban Shield has been conducting several tactical and EMS/medical integrated scenarios each year since 2008. These scenarios are created to be realistic, tactically and medically challenging and create an obvious nexus between the tactical resolution and providing life-saving care to the casualties in a timely manner. The Urban Shield EMS Branch has a well-deserved reputation for creating some of the highest rated scenarios in Urban Shield. We aim to continue that trend.

The Rescue Task Force concept is becoming more widespread and adopted nationwide. Fire Departments, local EMS providers and law enforcement need to collaboratively train, drill and develop procedures and protocols for this concept to be effective. You do not want to be exchanging business cards the day of the horrific event.


December 22, 2014

Behind the Crossbow II

Ski season is here!  Well, some places it is here.  Where we are located (in Bellingham, WA) our slopes didn't open until this past Saturday which was really late for us.  It felt like it took FOREVER, but it's finally here and in light of that we thought we'd share an article from a past newsletter about one of our packs that, because of it's reputation as a multi-tool, would be a great companion on the slopes.  It is always fun to peek into Rick's hands-on creative process.  If you want to subscribe to our newsletter and get all the sneak peeks behind the products click here.  

The original Crossbow started with Rick’s goal to design and build an Ultra light pack for Hasty SAR Teams. His vision was something that was durable but still quick, light and lean. Being very hands on about his designs, it was only natural that Rick include in his process a rigorous test. If we are completely honest the whole design began with this specific test in mind, as Rick believed this test would prove both the durability and the leanness of any pack and it was his goal to produce a pack that stood up to the absolute insanity of it.

The test was as follows:


  1. Mountain bike 9 miles from the trailhead to North Twin Sister. 
  2. Climb the west ridge. 
  3. Glissade down the north face. 
  4. Downhill mountain bike the rest of the way to Ferndale Riverside Golf Course. 
  5. Play 9 holes of golf… Without ever taking off the pack…obviously. 


Seems reasonable right? Maybe not, however, the pack survived and was dubbed the "Crossbow." This pack became very popular very quickly and was soon used by people all over the world. Rick himself used/uses this pack on a regular basis for everything from bike commuting to work to carrying his bodysurfing gear in Hawaii. So while we all were sad to see the Crossbow go out of production a couple years back, we are SO excited to see it come back this year with several improvements that make this pack even better for the original intended audience; Hasty SAR. Honestly though, it is still great for so many uses, it is the multi-tool of high quality packs.

Rick being the force and vision behind many a pack design has some obviously pack-geek favorite new features. If you can get him to focus for a minute away from the new water proof zippers that outline the sleeker and sexier exterior pocket silhouettes and main compartment, then I think he would settle on the improved accessibility and ability to organize medical supplies within the pack.

February 26, 2014

Choosing the right bag or pack

As the title suggests, I am going to attempt to pass on a few tips and suggestions regarding choosing the right bag or pack for your needs. I don’t think I will ramble on about what company to choose because you are:  

A) Reading our newsletter.  

B) Already know that choosing a company who builds all of their packs and bags in the good ol’ US of A using superior US sourced materials and craftsmanship is a good idea because you know that it means our products are built for life, and we guarantee that!  

Keeping it simple and without getting all techie regarding bag design, let’s begin evaluating your decision process.

The first thing you need to determine is the “style” of bag / pack that is needed. What is the primary environment the bag/pack will be used in?

Is the pack/bag going to serve in a busy urban system getting pulled in and out of an ambulance day in and day out or will it be used in a wilderness / rescue setting where the bag/pack will be carried over long distances and rough terrain or both? What is best for the situation, one of our full-on pack designs or one of our more traditional response bag designs? It is good to keep in mind that all of our traditional bag designs have the capability to be worn as a backpack or lumbar pack.  All of our packs have grab handles so they can be carried like a bag as well. There is really no issue in discussing which is more durable (urban or wilderness styles) because all of our products are built for life regardless of the environment they are going to be used in.

Once the “style” of the bag is determined, we need to look at what is going to carried in the bag/pack. Is this an ALS or BLS bag? Is it going to be an Expedition or Hasty Team bag / pack?

Conterra offers several product lines of the same design that vary in size. An example is the Responder series sizes I-IV and the Flightline series (to include the ALS Extreme) that is offered in 3 sizes.  Your choice will depend on how much or how little equipment you are required to carry. I spend a lot of time with Emergency Services and Rescue Teams going through what equipment is really necessary to carry (beyond what an agency may require).  A big hint: go through your equipment and really think about what really needs to carried, i.e. 27 Kerlex bandages makes absolutely no sense unless it is a Mass Casualty bag! You all know what I am talking about. The configuration of the bag is a consideration i.e. pockets and other organizers.  Thankfully, Conterra builds bags that are platforms for your specific organizational needs, not bags/packs with sewn in pockets and dividers. We do this for a good reason: we don’t know exactly what you are going to carry so we don’t want to assume the exact combination of pocket sizes you need...right? Instead we offer our MOS system (Modular Organizer System), which allows you to choose what size pockets, pouches and internal dividers you need. This allows for personal customization to fit your needs. All of our bags/packs have Hook & Loop (Velcro) panels that mate with the MOS options.

After you have determined what you need as far as style and size, it finally comes down to your personal preference.  Out of your options is there one that you simply like better more than the other?  Is there a color that you prefer?  Is there a specific feature that is more important to you than another?  Does one meet your needs better than another?  These are the questions to ask yourself when comparing your options.  Which one do you like and which one works best for your needs, keep it simple.

So to summarize:

  • Decide what environment you operate in the most and choose your “style” of bag/pack.  (Ambulance, SAR, Fire, Expedition)

  • Determine how much equipment is required to be carried and choose the appropriate size (ALS, BLS, Special Op’s)

  • Choose the bag/pack with the options that suit your needs (probe/shovel pockets, zippered hood for personal gear)

I truly think the best suggestion of all is to really take a good look at your equipment and think about what you really need to carry and keep it to a minimum. We all know the way it goes in our world, if there is a space available somebody wants to cram something in there! Keep it simple and organized so you don’t have to dig around to get equipment when things go epic!

After taking a good long look at those suggestions I feel confident you will be able to narrow your choice down to a bag / pack that fits your needs. If you are still having trouble, drop me a line...I am sure I can convince you to get rid of most of the 26 ice packs you are planning on carrying around!