“BSI!!! SCENE SAFE!! PPE!!! WORK AS A TEAM, LIFT FROM THE KNEES!!”
SAR is dangerous work. Professional, volunteer, amateur or expert – things go bad, and when they do, they go bad very fast. Ever year searchers get hurt, searchers get killed. It’s the nature of what we do. Stupid things happen, dumb mistakes are made and sometime disasters happen through no fault of anyone. Worst case scenarios are realized. People put themselves in harm for other people, most of the time as volunteers. It’s a beautiful thing, but very risky and incredibly dangerous.
Safety Priority List
Early on you should be taught the priority list in terms of safety. If you haven’t it goes a little something like this –
1 – Your safety is the top priority. You’re #1. Watch out for yourself first.
2 – Your team / teammates safety is the next priority.
3 – Any bystanders or “lookie loos” are third.
4 – The subject or victim’s safety is last.
In any SAR response, your personal safety should be your top priority, always. Watch out for yourself first, then your team, then the other people. Make sure the other people don’t become victim’s themselves. Unfortunately for the subject, they more-or-less got themselves in that mess and we should make sure everyone else is safe before we risk getting to them.
So, understanding that priority list, what’ the safest way to do Search and Rescue?
What we do is risky, dangerous and in all honesty insane. We’re crazy people. Why would you leave the comfort of your couch to go get dirty and sweaty for someone else? The sun sucks, why go outside? Why get out of bed at 2am to go out in the snow? Why would anyone want to go climb a mountain? How the hell do Helicopters even stay in air? The rain is out of control, and with all that excess water you know there’s gotta be some raw sewage in there. Who likes trudging through poop water? All for basically free?!
While on-scene, safety is always paramount, and training and experience paired with solid, sound leadership and teammates will help to mitigate most all the risks, but for us insane people, the second we answer the phone is the second we start putting ourselves in danger. Many searchers have been killed on their way to and from a mission. More searchers are killed the instant they get complacent or let their guard down, on or off a mission. You can never predict a callout, as such you’re never fully rested, hydrated or mentally prepared to go. Checklists, pre-planning and staged gear load-outs help, but only if you’ve gotten to the point where you go robotic / methodical in your response.
All that being said, again, what is the safest way to do Search and Rescue?
Just say No
The only clear answer is the safest way to do Search and Rescue is not to show up. Don’t join a SAR team, don’t respond and don’t volunteer.
Stupid is as Stupid Does
Fortunately for the lost and hurt, we don’t listen to that advice. As searchers we’re born a different way. Whether our chemical makeup is jacked, we have an out of control ego, or we truly want to help – we still show up, “Ready to get sweaty” all while knowing Mother Nature will kill us first chance she gets. We’re okay with chaos, and acknowledge things can go terribly wrong. We know we can deny orders based on safety, but will still gladly accept risk. We look forward to mentally and physically brutal training events because we know the live operations will still never be that comfortable. We understand some of us may get hurt, but we do it anyways. We miss family time, social events and days off, and we still do it. As one of my teammates so eloquently said “F*ck personal lives, we love this stupid sh*t and we keep coming back.”
This isn’t written to deter or scare those who wish to help, if you want to do it, please join up – we definitely need the help. But recognize the commitment you’re making, it’s not just a couple hours a month; it’s constant, it’s non-stop and it’s never convenient. The instant you start slacking off you put you or your team in danger because your lack of training or awareness may cause one of them to get injured. Hard truth.
If you want to be safe, don’t show up. Ever.
However, if you’re ready, commit. Join us. If you want to do this, be serious, and be serious always. And for those who choose to keep running towards the danger, big or small – be safe, and I’ll see you out there.