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12:30 AM. You’re dead asleep and something starts beeping. You’ve got work in the morning. You groggily force your eyes open and grab the beeper next to your bedside stand. A backpacker is in trouble. It’s your choice whether you respond or not. You’re not required to respond to all of them. But something pushes you to your feet anyway. Work or no work in the morning, someone needs your help right now.
You hurry and pull on more than $500 worth of clothing that was made especially for what you’re about to do. You race and load up all of your expensive gear. A radio. A harness. Your pack. A whole bunch of other stuff that cost around a thousand bucks. Another thousand dollars worth of stuff stays put in your closet for other types of rescues. You bought all the gear and clothes yourself. The Sherriff’s office required you to get it, but they didn’t help you buy it.
Three and a half hours later you find yourself face to face with the downed backpacker. He got himself into a serious pickle when he slipped off the trail edge and fell into a steep ravine. As you’re helping to harness him, he cracks a joke. “I sure hope you’re getting paid good for this.”
You turn to him and laugh. “The good news is, we all just got a ten percent raise.” The backpacker looks at you, unsure of how to respond. You just smile. “We’re all volunteers. Ten percent of zero is still zero my good man.”
This is Search and Rescue. Or at least a super simplified version of it. Also a very minor situation compared to some of the calls they receive.
But it’s what they do. They are volunteers, they buy all their own gear in most counties, and they give a LOT of their time to save others. If it means missing work, they miss work. If it means missing family time, they miss family time. They are required to train monthly. Semi-monthly the first year. A lot of these guys around here go on 30-50 rescues every year.
Last week I shared my own story of getting stuck with extreme heat exhaustion at the very top of a mountain. Search and Rescue got me out of that pickle. More than a couple dozen of them responded to the call. All of them left their families and their relaxing evenings at home to climb a God-forsaken, steep, hot mountain and rescue a hiker who was in over his head because of his own lack of education, preparedness, and over-abundance of stupidity.
I think eight of them actually made it to the top of that mountain. And of those eight, never did any of them ask how I got into that situation. They only asked themselves how they were going to get me out. They worked as a team and a brotherhood to get me the immediate medical care I needed, and nobody complained about any task they were given, no matter how big or how small. Nobody complained of the timing. Nobody complained of lost wages or time. Nobody complained about my inexperience or my stupidity.
As humans, I think we tend to look at others who are in trouble (whatever the trouble may be) and base our willingness to help on our own judgments of what got them into that situation. If the path that led them to where they are was one of stupidity, laziness, lack of education, or addiction, we often refuse our services.
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