A Ranger and SAR veteran responds

posted Jan 17, 2013, 8:16 PM by Paul Wagner
We posted our note about SAR on the Backcountryforum.com....and a retired ranger and SAR volunteer had this to say:
"M&P, you make a very good point. The typical serious rescue scenario involves bad decisions - typically not just one, but a sequence of at least two or three (often starting with what to take or where to go) that lead to an emergency and the need for outside intervention. Often a trip can withstand one bad decision if people get on track and compensate with good thinking.

I did most of my SAR before cell phones were the factor they are today, with the result that the operation was often initiated by a third party who only knew that little Johnny was overdue and might be in trouble. Very often we would encounter a tired and thirsty little Johnny who was proceeding homeward down the trail, but not in any real trouble. As an organization, we received a training benefit.

That is no small thing. Particularly for a volunteer outfit, there is a certain optimum level of activity that keeps everyone sharp, organized, fit and alert. Too many operations and the group is overwhelmed and over worked. Too few, and volunteers (or professionals, too, for that matter) become listless and unfocused.

We were a great bargain for the tax payer. The typical operation would involve one paid deputy who was on the clock and anywhere from ten to forty volunteers who got some exercise and the satisfaction of dealing with challenging situations. The greatest benefit was the exaltation that hit you when you had intervened and actually saved a life and clearly benefited someone. In my experience, there is nothing quite like that feeling.

"endangered lives" = please! Very seldom did that occur, and always on a voluntary basis. Frankly, during a lot of the time I was most active in SAR, my career in the NPS had hit a flat spot (I was a paper shuffling, bureaucratic archaeodrone in a crummy organization) and many times was sitting in a mid numbing, fruitless meeting praying for my pager to go off and get me out of there. Unlike some of my work colleagues, I respected and trusted my SAR buddies. The bottom line is that there are complex interactions going on; those who volunteer have good reason to do so and are compensated in many ways. The "selfless volunteer dedicated to serving suffering humanity" is a cardboard caricature, hardly representative of the real nature of volunteerism. Most are semi-addicted to adrenaline and physical activities and happy to put their talents to a useful end. Let me just say that, of all the things I have done in my life, I am proudest of my SAR activities.

Blatant abuse of SAR resources is not overlooked. The NPS can and will charge you with "creating a dangerous situation" but this is done, and rightly so, only in extreme cases. Other jurisdictions can do likewise, I believe."
Here's a link to the whole discussion--it's a very good group of people over there: