For the past several months I have been working with Saskatoon Search and Rescue training to become a Basic Searcher within the organization. This volunteer group is full of everyday citizens whose motto is, “so others may live.”
Getting ready to complete a near water search excercise
The purpose of the organization is to assist law enforcement and other government agencies to locate and assist lost members of the public from everything to urban and rural locations. Members of the organization are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When I started with the organization I knew that my experiences spending time in nature would be asset, but as I have worked my way through training I have learned that I am short on a few skills.
These are a few things that I have learned during my Search and Rescue Training.
1) I sound like an idiot on the radio
A large part of an effective search and rescue operation is communication. There are numerous teams out in the field and a Command Post that is tasked with coordinating them all. In order to ensure effective communication we need to radio back to Command with the things we find and any other updates that will assist in the search effort.
Is this thing on?
Now, the way you talk on the radio is you first say the name of the person you are wanting to speak to, then your name. So for example “Command, this is Team Bravo” and then you wait for a response before proceeding with your message. However, whenever I get on the radio I feel like I am back in middle school on opening night of a school play.
My exchanges usually go like this, “Team Bravo this is Command. Crap, I am not Command. Ummm… I mean Command this is Team…. wait what is our team name again?”
2) There is a reason I get lost so often
I have used compasses out on my hikes in the past, but not much more than just knowing which way is north and trying to work backwards from there on a map. While this is helpful, I have since learned a hundred more uses for a compass.
I think we are doing this right
One of these uses quickly taught me that my compass was not adequate. My current model doesn’t allow for declination adjustments. For those just as uninformed as I was about the term “declination” it is the difference between magnetic north and the true north gridlines on a map. The magnetic north pole is not constant and is continually on the move. In order to read a map correctly with a compass you need to take this into consideration.
Hopefully, I can take some of my new skills and become lost a little less often out on the trails.
3) I can make a pretty good shelter out of a tarp
During field training we practice survival skills that may come in handy one day. One of these skills is building a shelter out of a limited pack.
Does it look like two adult men can fit in there?
So with only a few tent pegs, a tarp and some paracord and the resources around us we were tasked with building a shelter that would keep us comfortable throughout the night. My team member and I worked together to build an a-frame shelter that kept the both of us pretty cozy. We met for the first time that day, but nothing brings two people closer together then spending the night under a tarp.
The worst part – both of us having to get up and pee during the night and not try and wake the person up. I don’t think we were too successful.
4) Growing up with three brothers has prepared me to handle a lot of injuries
There are two parts to Search and Rescue, first we need to find a patient, the second we need to care for them. That means we need to have First Aid skills that could potentially save someone’s life.
I am the youngest of four brothers who all grew up playing sports and doing the normal things boys do growing up on the prairies. Our one sister was smart enough to not involve herself with our shenanigans. During First Aid training I couldn’t help myself from bringing up the injuries my brothers and I have had.
A broken leg? No big deal when you can make a splint like this!
We as kids experienced everything from broken bones, dislocated shoulders, torn ligaments, concussions and nasty cuts. Growing up with these idiots is paying off a lot more than I thought since I now have experience handling a pretty wide range of injuries.
I have added a lot more skills to my First Aid bank, such as CPR, and I feel much more confident that I will be able to make the right decisions. Don’t worry I won’t treat patients the same as I would my brothers and laugh at them for getting hurt.
5) Teamwork is the necessity of crisis
Since I have just completed my training I have yet to go on an actual call, in the meantime Search and Rescue uses scenario training to keep our skills sharp. Search and Rescue is the epitome of teamwork as it requires everyone working together to successfully complete a task.
The team getting our assignments from Command
During one such excercise we conducted a Search and Rescue scenario for someone lost in the woods of the South Saskatchewan River Valley. This was treated as a live scenario with two teams working together to search a designated area. Command was set up and coordinating us as we searched for our lost patient.
The team I was working with found the lost patient who was not breathing and unresponsive. While our patient was only a plastic dummy it felt real enough to get the adrenaline really flowing. Immediately the team went into action with two members beginning chest compressions while our Team Leader and I began coordinating with Command to get EMS to the site.
I am doing a bleeding check while other team members stabalize the head and a puncture wound
Each one of us became locked into our tasks and while we were hesitant about the decisions we were making, we knew we needed to stick to the plan we had generated.
After scenarios are completed we spend time as a team reflecting on what we did wrong and what we did right. It is amazing the things you forget to do when a crisis happens, things as simple as not ditching our backpacks during chest compressions or all of sudden not being comfortable relaying GPS coordinates.
However, that is why we train so we can make the mistakes when it is a plastic dummy and not when it is a member of the community.
Sometimes your team needs to make a shelter for you while you get naked after being "saved" from the river
These are just a few things I have learned during my time training with Search and Rescue. I am looking forward to learning even more skills with the team. While I hope I am never called to help someone, because this means they are in trouble, I know that with the support of my team we will do our best to bring someone home.