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#283165 - 12/29/16 06:27 PM Rescuers at Risk
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 5728
Loc: southern Cal
" they put their rescuers at risk trying to save them. In this particular incident, I didn't see it mentioned that rescuers were in danger. But that does happen. It shouldn't." from Haertig's post in the north Rim urine drinking, marathoning thread.....

As a longtime SAR volunteer (1958-1985 (mostly 1970-1985), responding to somewhat more than 450 operations which varied in length from 5 minutes to several months, I feel impelled to respond to this very common sentiment.

Basically, the riskiest behavior a SAR person will expose oneself to is the drive to base camp. There are exceptions since you may well log helicopter time and participate in high angle operations, but SAR overall is a fairly safe and benign enterprise. Even today, most SAR operatives are volunteers and they are there by choice.

The rewards are many and abundant, and the risks are few. Typically, one is operating in terrain they know quite well, they are properly equipped, operating within a team, and within contact of an operations/base camp who track them properly. They have training and are usually properly equipped.

Injuries do happen. I personally did some damage to my ears during a scuba operation. Guess what? My treatment was covered by workman's comp and I recovered completely. I can recall a couple of other injuries to others (sprained ankle, insect bite), similarly minor in nature. I suspect the injury rate is no greater that that incurred by the same population while engaged in recreational activity.

For those who are not volunteering, like NPS rangers assigned to this specialty, rest assured that they are properly compensated. That doesn't hurt a bit.
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#283177 - 12/29/16 09:45 PM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: hikermor]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 977
Loc: Alaska
SAR teams are generally self motivated, very experienced, highly trained, and go to great lengths to operate safely. As hikermor notes, studies have shown that the most common way that SAR team members are killed or injured is driving to and from the incident, and in aircraft accidents.

As Teslinhiker notes in another thread, SAR missions are commonly suspended when conditions become unreasonably dangerous for rescuers. This depends a lot on the circumstances. Sometimes dangerous missions will be done when there is a high chance of saving a life. For example when it is known that the person is still alive. When it is known or strongly suspected that it is a body recovery mission, SAR teams tend to get much more conservative. A classic "Risk vs Reward" situation.

One situation that sometimes vexes SAR teams is when non-trained "spontaneous volunteers" show up and want to help. These are often friends and family of the subject. Another case when lot of people often show up is when kids are involved. While the extra manpower can sometimes be helpful, the problem is that these spontaneous volunteers are often themselves inexperienced and poorly equipped. It can be very hard in a fast developing incident to sort out who can be an asset to the mission, and who is more likely to add to the problem.
_________________________
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz

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#283179 - 12/29/16 10:22 PM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: AKSAR]
haertig Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/13/05
Posts: 1841
Loc: Colorado
I understand that SAR injuries are rare. But I lost a family friend, who was also one of my primary Paramedic instructors, Sandy (the flight nurse) and an acquaintance Gary (the pilot) in this one:

https://www.flightforlifecolorado.org/flc/about-us/tribute/

And then I lost another acquaintance, Pat (the pilot) in this one:

http://www.koaa.com/story/29487094/2-injured-in-medical-helicopter-crash-in-frisco-idd

The above were a little different, as they were more medical evacs from my ambulance days than SAR, but still, these folks were "rescuers" in my mind. Sandy and Gary died trying to hover above timberline over an angled mountainside to load an injured climber/hiker. The main rotor clipped the mountain after a big gust of wind. Pat died in an equipment shuttle between medical calls. I do not know the cause of that crash.

I had another friend/co-paramedic that about had his jaw ripped clean off when some unthinking person cut off his ambulance (running hot, with lights and sirens) and caused a crash.

Injuries/deaths DO occur, and they still cause anguish, even if rare.

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#283181 - 12/29/16 10:52 PM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: haertig]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 977
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: haertig
...Injuries/deaths DO occur, and they still cause anguish, even if rare.
Yes they do occur. And indeed they do cause anguish, even years later. No one said they never happen. And as noted up thread, aircraft accidents are one of the leading causes of rescuer death and injury.

Condolences for the loss of your friends. I too have attended the funeral of a SAR friend. He was a helicopter pilot killed trying to take off with an injured recreational snow machine driver, at night in poor weather. The sad part was that from what we know, the injuries were probably not that severe, but the snow machine guy wasn't prepared to spend the night till the weather got better....

I had flown with that pilot on several occasions. He was a fine pilot, who was highly motivated and loved SAR work. The agency involved in that crash has now modified it's policies. These days they would probably not launch that mission under the same conditions. One problem with keeping rescuers safe is that they are sometimes TOO motivated, and take risks they shouldn't. We need to have procedures in place to clearly evaluate the risk vs reward of every mission. Even more critical is clear thinking by the command team, to reign in over eager SAR team members.

As in every other aspect of life, accidents will still happen, no matter how careful we are.
_________________________
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz

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#283182 - 12/29/16 11:25 PM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 5728
Loc: southern Cal
The only SAR related memorial service I have ever attended was for a helicopter crew who crashed on their final flight of the day, returning to base. They had just dropped off two of our outfit.

OTOH, I have lost count of the number of victims who got out of the hospital and led productive lives as a result of a helicopter using their "golden hour" to good advantage.

Yes, indeed, body recoveries are much more relaxed and careful - good training opportunities for the new folks.
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Geezer in Chief

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#283186 - 12/30/16 04:03 AM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: AKSAR]
Teslinhiker Offline
Veteran

Registered: 12/14/09
Posts: 1279
Originally Posted By: AKS

One situation that sometimes vexes SAR teams is when non-trained "spontaneous volunteers" show up and want to help. These are often friends and family of the subject. Another case when lot of people often show up is when kids are involved. While the extra manpower can sometimes be helpful, the problem is that these spontaneous volunteers are often themselves inexperienced and poorly equipped. It can be very hard in a fast developing incident to sort out who can be an asset to the mission, and who is more likely to add to the problem.


Sometimes, SAR takes on a rescue to save humans from themselves becoming a rescue subject or body recovery.

To rescue a dog.
_________________________
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

John Lubbock

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#283187 - 12/30/16 04:22 AM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: AKSAR]
haertig Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/13/05
Posts: 1841
Loc: Colorado
Originally Posted By: AKSAR
One situation that sometimes vexes SAR teams is when non-trained "spontaneous volunteers" show up and want to help. These are often friends and family of the subject.

I can see the problems of allowing poorly equipped and untrained people to participate. But I can see even bigger problems (for the SAR team) if they tried to physically stop the family members of a lost child from searching. If the child were later found dead, say from exposure from being out too long, I can easily see that SAR team being sued out of existence. I would probably sue them myself if it were my kid.

A tough call for SAR. But I think it would be best to try to channel the family's participation into the most fruitful and safest activities, but barring that guidance being accepted, I'd think it very unwise to restrain them from participating. Extreme cases are different. I can't imagine a fireman allowing a family member to run into a burning house to save someone. They're probably reasonably safe from liability in preventing that kind of "family participation".

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#283189 - 12/30/16 05:28 AM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: haertig]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 977
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: haertig
Originally Posted By: AKSAR
One situation that sometimes vexes SAR teams is when non-trained "spontaneous volunteers" show up and want to help. These are often friends and family of the subject.

I can see the problems of allowing poorly equipped and untrained people to participate. But I can see even bigger problems (for the SAR team) if they tried to physically stop the family members of a lost child from searching. If the child were later found dead, say from exposure from being out too long, I can easily see that SAR team being sued out of existence. I would probably sue them myself if it were my kid.

A tough call for SAR. But I think it would be best to try to channel the family's participation into the most fruitful and safest activities, but barring that guidance being accepted, I'd think it very unwise to restrain them from participating. Extreme cases are different. I can't imagine a fireman allowing a family member to run into a burning house to save someone. They're probably reasonably safe from liability in preventing that kind of "family participation".
Yes, that can be a real issue. Volunteer SAR teams are very unlikely to try to physically prevent people from attempting a search or rescue on their own. As a practical matter, volunteer teams would not have any legal authority to do that. Law Enforcement might have that kind of authority, but in most situations it is unrealistic to think they could stop people. Too many ways into the area and nowhere near enough officers to patrol it. Besides, SAR is a secondary mission for most LE agencies.

What is done is try to educate people, pointing out the need for proper gear, skills appropriate for the terrain, etc. In some cases I have seen, SAR teams will try to select those with more or less appropriate gear and clothing and team them up with experienced SAR team members. Then give those teams the less demanding assignments. For those who clearly weren't ready to go into the back country, we've tried to find some task for them to help with around base camp. People usually cooperate fairly well if handled this way. They just want to feel like they are helping in some way.

In some cases, all those spontaneous volunteers can be a genuine asset. I recall one major avalanche body recovery mission for a popular local man. It was a really big slide, and the subject was not wearing a beacon, so it turned into a big multi day probing exercise. Because it was in a fairly remote area, the only practical way in was by helicopter. The authorities spread the word that friends and family could help, but only if they showed up with adequate clothing and food, beacon, probe, and shovel. They were given a quick instruction in helicopter safety, then teamed up with experienced SAR members, and flown in. On site they were organized into probe line teams, and put to work. It took a couple of days, but the victim was eventually found.

Every case is different, and as Teslinhiker's example shows, sometimes unusual things have to be done. The overriding objective should always be to bring the subject home if at all possible but without getting anyone else hurt.
_________________________
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz

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#283191 - 12/30/16 03:00 PM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 5728
Loc: southern Cal
The SAR situations with which i am familiar involve trained civilian volunteers working under the local county sheriff. A designated deputy was the individual who initiated the search, and managed the search. Thus legal authority was available, if necessary, to dissuade overeager volunteers, and occasionally to deal with associated criminal activity.

Usually that wasn't necessary since you could find some productive tasks for them (base camp chores, low risk areas, etc). I think we snagged a few members in this manner, as well.

Don't discount working at base camp. On the typical operation which lasts less than twelve hours or so, base camp is pretty minimal. But if the operation endures, base camp activity expands and becomes increasingly critical.

Concerned friends and relatives of the missing persons are often valuable in another regard. They can provide insight into habits and tendencies of the lost persons. This can be crucial in shaping the search effort.

You soon learn to be discreet in your comments in and around BC, and on the radio, because you never know who is present....
_________________________
Geezer in Chief

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#283202 - 01/01/17 10:26 PM Re: Rescuers at Risk [Re: hikermor]
clearwater Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 03/19/05
Posts: 937
Loc: Channeled Scablands
Originally Posted By: hikermor


Usually that wasn't necessary since you could find some productive tasks for them (base camp chores, low risk areas, etc). I think we snagged a few members in this manner, as well.

Don't discount working at base camp. On the typical operation which lasts less than twelve hours or so, base camp is pretty minimal. But if the operation endures, base camp activity expands and becomes increasingly critical.

Concerned friends and relatives of the missing persons are often valuable in another regard. They can provide insight into habits and tendencies of the lost persons. This can be crucial in shaping the search effort.

You soon learn to be discreet in your comments in and around BC, and on the radio, because you never know who is present….


They also appreciate being near the communications center of the search so they can get up to date info on progress. Sometimes this convinces them to stay at base camp rather than be out where they may not learn of news about their loved ones right away.

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