The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 33: Wilderness Rescuing

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Have you ever wanted to be a hero? It can actually be just another fun way to get outdoors. This week on The WildeBeat; Wilderness Rescuing.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number thirty three.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Last week, we listened-in on a winter search and rescue training exercise. We were out with BAMRU, the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit. Chances are, you'll never need the services of a search and rescue unit. But if you ever do, you'll want to make their job as easy as possible. John Chang is the unit leader of BAMRU.

JOHN CHANG: Some of the basic things to keep in mind is, you are on your own. The search and rescue team there is a last resort to help you. So the more you can help yourself, the easier it is for the search and rescue team to either locate you, and if you're hurt, to facilitate helping you get out of that environment.

STEVE: Here's more advice from Tim Kovacs of the Mountain Rescue Association.

TIM KOVACS: Tell someone where you're going. Go where you say you're going, or call that person and tell them you've changed your plan. Take the stuff that you need, and never rely on technology to solve your problems in the backcountry. The GPS unit, the cell phone, it's going to fail you at the moment you need it worst because you'll be in a dead cell area, or the GPS will tell you where you're at, but it isn't going to tell you how to get out of there. So, you still got to get the training, you've still got to rely on yourself, and not wait for everybody else to bail you out.

STEVE: Tim says that over ninety percent of mountain rescuers in the U.S. are volunteers. Kathy Miller is on the board of NASAR, the National Association for Search and Rescue. She says volunteer rescuers are still the majority.

KATHY MILLER: I would say sixty percent or more of your wilderness search and rescue folks are going to be volunteer.

STEVE: No matter how you like to get into the wilderness, you can probably join a volunteer search and rescue unit that fits your style.

JOHN CHANG: Different counties have different specializations, and it depends on the terrain or needs. Some counties have a greater need for swift water rescue teams, other teams that do require more technical terrains. There are quite a handful of different teams, depending on the background. There's an air squadron, there is a cliff and dive team. Each one has its own specialization and capabilities and limitations. Our unit happens to also train and qualify to the most hazardous environment. But that does not preclude us to going to local responses in which it could be searching in a field environment, in the back yard, knocking on doors.

STEVE: There are mounted units on horseback, K-9 units that take their dogs, and backcountry ski patrols, to name a few more. And whatever your favorite backcountry skill is, or your favorite mode of travel, training for a search and rescue unit will make you a lot better at it. That alone might be a good enough reason to consider joining up. But John Chang thinks most volunteers get more profound rewards.

JOHN CHANG: The rewards that we reap is not the traditional rewards of tangible rewards. It's something that is individual, because there's something to be said about looking into someone's eyes when they can't move, and express their gratitude to you, knowing that, "wow, you're here to help me." So that's very rewarding.

STEVE: If you join a search and rescue unit, you're in for some intense training. Kathy Miller says the time commitment is...

KATHY MILLER: Anywhere from four to ten hours a month. It depends on what the team requirements are, the environment in which the team is going to respond into. If you were in a mountainous area there may be more hours required to keep those skills up than someone who's in a plain state that doesn't have the added climbing requirement. If you're a canine handler it's going to take more time than if you're not a canine handler, once you're trained. Now your training may require four to five hours of commitment per week until you get the training and certifications required that enable you to be deployed. And that may take, depending on what that particular jurisdiction requires, it could take anywhere from three to six months to get to the point where you're deployable.

STEVE: Kathy lists some of the skills that her organization, NASAR, emphasizes in their training programs. Keep in mind that each local unit probably only offers and requires a subset of these skills.

KATHY MILLER: Properly selecting clothing and equipment, how to use that equipment, how to improvise, survival skills, how to track -- you know, follow foot prints, search management issues such as what can you expect from a six-year-old who's lost in a wilderness environment as opposed to an Alzheimer's patient who may be lost in an urban environment. In addition to that, you're taught to use a map and a compass. We teach them how to recognize clues, how to search for clues in an environment. In addition some other states may require that the person have first-responder so that they can provide first aid once once they find the person that they're looking for. They may be required to have ham radio license. Additionally they may have to have haz-mat awareness training, or confined space awareness training. And depending on the environment, they may have to have additional survival skills training such as how to survive in a desert, how to survive in an alpine environment, avalanche training...

STEVE: Tim Kovacs talks about the more specialized training recommended for member units of the Mountain Rescue Association.

TIM KOVACS: Wilderness search, technical rope rescue operations, and alpine, which means snow and ice. So the individual has to meet certain requirements in each one of those three disciplines. And in each one of those disciplines we address helicopter operations, and then we go through the usual things that you might imagine: Search theory, search management, their ability to navigate by map and compass, use GPS. They'd have to know all their knots -- you know a lot of engineering principals. Wilderness medical, search and rescue medical treatment. In the alpine environment, crevasse rescue, traveling on a rope team, over crevasses, over glaciers, uses of crampons, ice axes, ice climbing...

STEVE: But to get involved, do you need to be some kind of super mountaineer or wilderness survival expert?

TIM KOVACS: Well, we have combinations of both kinds of people. And virtually all of our teams have a combination of still the traditional climbers and mountaineers, and then we have the other category of people that come in; perhaps a physician that's not a climber or mountaineer necessarily. We have everywhere from six and seven figure business professionals that own their own businesses all the way down to a journeyman or an apprentice plumber or an electrician or office worker. And there is a place for everybody, eve at the base camp. If you don't know how to climb or use the ropes we need support people, we need communications people, all kinds of stuff.

STEVE: Actually, John Chang says getting involved with a local search and rescue unit is as easy as just dropping-in and getting to know them.

JOHN CHANG: It's very straightforward. You attend our general meetings, introduce yourself yourself to us so we introduce ourselves to you. A lot of our team emphasis is team building. And so we are much more inclined to welcome team players with limited skills than true individual experts that cannot interact with others. And so many of the prerequisites is, the simplest one is the desire to participate. And in terms of the specific skills, we do encourage the more skills you have coming in to the organization, the more opportunities you have in the more in-depth participations.

STEVE: Tim Kovacs says that without volunteers, there might not be anyone available to come save you or me, if we ever need them.

TIM KOVACS: I've been on my team locally for twenty four years, and I've seen volunteerism drop a lot. It's tough these days to volunteer. But you know what? There's an incredible amount of satisfaction you get out of this. And when you really dig deep and look around in this country, volunteers keep this country going. There isn't enough tax money, and there aren't enough paid career people to do all the jobs that we need to do to help each other out. Search and rescue is a major one.

STEVE: You can find out more about search and rescue organizations, and how you can get involved, on our web site.

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Next time -- surviving the desert.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number thirty three. Thank you for listening.

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