Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

High Angle Training

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Yesterday we held a joint high angle rescue training with Wilderness Rescue Team (WRT). "Wilderness," for short, as they are generally known in Maine SAR circles, are one of only a handful of organizations in the great state of Maine that train for and work in mountain rescue.

The way to understand the difference between WRT and other teams in Maine would be to consider the difference between search and rescue operations in woodland and wetland terrain (the kinds of operations that are the great majority of call-outs in Maine), and search and rescue operations in the high rock and ice of a Maine mountain like Mount Katahdin.

Obviously, only a team of trained and experienced mountaineers should be sent up Katahdin to perform a rescue!

But equally obviously, anyone who can read a map, hike safely and perform basic first aid can help a Maine team search a woodland or wetland like the Bangor City Forest searched only yesterday.

The latter can become the former, but not easily, because the process is much the same process that it takes to create a trained mountaineer -- you have to go mountaineering a lot!

An awful lot.

So that makes WRT one of the most committed and active teams in Maine. They have one or two former Unity students as members, I'm proud to say, including Nate, who visited yesterday with his three WRT colleagues, Joe, Jen, and Jake, to help out with our annual high angle rescue familiarization training.

Joe Poulin was the WRT lead trainer. Joe and I sit together on the Maine Association for Search and Rescue statewide committee, and I've worked with him now on SAR problems in Maine for nearly a decade, but this is the first time I'd asked him to come and train our team.

I should have asked long ago.

Joe is an excellent teacher, very animated and intense. The last photo, which I like a lot, shows him in action.

This training is not intended to create fully turned-out mountain rescuers. That's way too much to ask of a training that only lasts a day and only happens once a year. Instead it aims to begin the process of training a tiny handful of our most experienced ground searchers, particularly those who like to climb mountains, up to the much higher standards of fitness and technical knowledge required for mountain rescue personnel. Along the way we can begin to familiarize the rest of our team, particularly the beginners, with the mountain rescue environment.

The most experienced UCSAR members typically go on to federal and state park service, Maine Warden, and other agency jobs that require rescue and evacuation skills, sometimes at the mountain rescue level, and so this day is often the first step on a lifetime of training and experience.

The beginners get to try out some very scary but confidence-building activities. There are lots of cliffs one has to go over in life, metaphorical and otherwise, and it's generally a good thing to begin to learn to conquer fear and terror, if that beginning can happen in a very structured and safe environment.

I've been teaching these skills now for thirty years and I haven't hurt anyone badly yet. There have been quite a few bruises, though, including a few bruised egos.

I've seen strong men reduced to tears by the terror of their first rock climb or rappel.

Our group for yesterday's training included a large number of first year women students, and so inflated egos were not much to be found. The sex ratio made for a very pleasant and cooperative day, compared to others I've experienced, although there was also a bit more reticence and standing around rather than getting stuck in, which is what we encourage.

The best way to learn is to get stuck in.

Our WRT friends made for excellent one-on-one trainers too, so everyone was kept busy most of the time with ample opportunity to get stuck in.

Indeed, since all I had to do was teach rappel and otherwise make myself useful to Joe, I have to say I had a very pleasant day indeed, when usually this training is far too busy for me.

And it was particularly good to see our young Unity College women step up to the plate and learn to go over the edge, or make themselves useful on a rescue "system."

The greatest of thanks to Joe Poulin, Jake, Nate and Jen of Wilderness Rescue Team! Hopefully we can do this again sometime, possibly next fall.

Congratulations to all our students that learned to rappel, and special congratulations to the four that handled the final litter lower exercise.

I'll post more pictures in a day or two. These are just the best ones for now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

News report from today's rescue

Early season search concludes well

I just spent most of the wee hours helping organize a call-out, as MASAR Duty Officer. There was a search on, at the Bangor City Forest, which sounds like a park or arboretum, but in the routine nature of Maine is actually a small wilderness area, which itself backs on to bigger areas of privately owned wildland.

Our own team was called out, and six Unity students responded this morning. They arrived at the command post just in time to be told that the victim had been located alive.

(I don't have any more details and in fact we are not supposed to post details of Maine searches and rescues on our own team blogs.)

Students that haven't been on a call-out before may be disappointed to be turned around and sent home before they get to go search the woods, but this is in fact the best possible kind of outcome, or one of them:

a) The victim or subject is ALIVE! Need I say more?

b) No more searchers need to be sent out, meaning our searchers are now also safer and less likely to be hurt or injured and can be sent back to their own lives.

I'm always pleased by the responses I get as Duty Officer whenever I have to organize a call-out. I get to call people all over the state and in ones and twos and threes and fours, they get out of beds or up from in front of the TV and start making their way to the incident command post.

Horses and four-wheelers are trailered up for the ride and search dogs are made to climb into cages and kennels placed in the back of SUVs. Bags are packed or grabbed off the shelf, radios and GPS units are grabbed. On big call-outs, and this one was moderately big, scores of people then begin driving, sometimes long, long drives, all leaving their lives for the duration, and making their way to the call-out.

As a veteran, this kind of thing is important to me.

I need to feel like I belong in a society where public service is respected and honored, and where people are willing to contribute their time and energy to the greater good, or, in this case, to come to the aid of someone they don't know in a community far away.

And I get to sit by the phone, as Duty Officer, and help make this small miracle of volunteerism and public service happen.

What an honor.