Caving Cautiously

By Maggie Weaver

Captain Brandon Powers of Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Services pulls out a radio used in the field to communicate with the rescue team. Monday, April 11, 2022. (Photo By Maggie Weaver)

It’s estimated that over 2 million people visit caves annually in the United States. Brandon Powers is one of them, having been an avid caver for over two decades. He has been working with Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Services since 2016 and now holds the rank of captain.

“Caving, in general, is a sport that I feel like a lot of people don’t have a tremendous amount of information about, and you can find yourself way over your head real quick,” says Captain Powers.

There are over 7,000 caves within an hour’s drive of Chattanooga, including parts of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Powers says that, in reference to local outdoor incidents, it’s important that his community knows what they are up against.

Captain Powers pumps up an inflatable backboard used to transport injured people safely out of an IDLH (immediate danger to life and health) area. Monday, April 11, 2022. (Photo By Maggie Weaver)

“Of all the years of doing emergency service work and in various disciplines and environments, a cave environment is one of the most hostile environments I’ve ever done rescuing,” he says.

Powers’ advice for someone getting into caving as a hobby or as a sport is to first find a community of experts in the local area to learn from.

“It’s a wonderful way to explore the earth in a way that you don’t see on the surface. But doing that in a responsible way, I think, is imperative,” Powers explains.

He suggests getting in touch with a local caving club or grotto, such as the Chattanooga Grotto which meets at Chattanooga Outdoors.

“There’s a huge amount of trust involved when you’re going caving with friends or people. And so that trust, that bond has to be built before folks will just openly tell you where things are at,” he says.

Powers says he learned a lot about caving through his own, sometimes dangerous, errors. He reminds his community that we are all humans that make mistakes, but that when it comes to caving, the situations can often be unforgiving.

Captain Powers lays out tools used for a tactical rescue. Monday, April 11, 2022. (Photo By Maggie Weaver)

“The cave environment just is hostile. I heard somebody put it one time ‘It’s not really compatible with life,’” he relates.

Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Services has been providing valuable professional services to the citizens of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and the surrounding Tri-State area since 1973. The squad was founded on the statement “We volunteer because we care” and they continue to serve, train and work closely with other agencies to further this cause.

“There’s 10,000 plus hours of volunteer time that goes into this every year. It’s a tremendous effort to keep an organization like this running at a professional level. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, meaning we are 100% volunteer. Predominantly, our budget comes from just donations from the community at large,” he says.

The team consists of folks of various backgrounds which allows each member to express their individual talents through the emergency services they provide on a volunteer basis. There are over 40 team members who are trained for cave/cliff technical rescue, search and rescue techniques (SAR), mobile air replacement, and even providing ALS medical care.

“We predominantly specialize in cave rescue. That’s sort of our bread and butter. It’s a great dynamic of folks on the team and we tend to try to create a mastermind group by leveraging each other’s talents to provide a high level of professional capabilities,” he says.

From technical expertise, SAR and emergency incident rehabilitation services, they are one of the few rescue teams in the country with the skill level and experience to save lives both above and underground.

Maggie Weaver spoke with Brad Tipton about his caving experience that led to him becoming an advocate for cave safety.

Maggie Weaver is a photojournalist and audio storyteller based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Weaver uses her leadership and artistic skills to tell stories about the human experience and raw compassion through her camera lens. Her experience working with WUTC’s Scenic Roots continues to inspire her to tell others’ stories who cannot do so themselves. To contact Maggie, email

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