Q&A with author Hal Clifford

Mountain rescue: life and death on a rescue team

Q&A with author Hal Clifford

Do young rescuers get too enthusastic?
Are team members all volunteers?
How can I get involved?
A team member responds to the book
Aspen's only one of many excellent rescue teams
I want to climb--where can I learn how?
What are the qualifications for volunteering on a rescue team?
Did I really say that?
Is this book just for mountain rescue volunteers?
How dangerous is rescue work? How did you get involved in it?
How can I get rescue training?
What about the fatal Mt. Rainier rescue this summer?
Should people pay for their own rescues?

What are the qualifications for volunteering on a rescue team?
I'm sure you get this all the time, so I feel a little silly, but... I've been a volunteer firefighter for four years, and I worked wildland in Wyoming last year. What are the qualifications for such a team? I assume Wilderness EMT is among them, but what else?

And do they train you (like a fire department or a BLM fire crew), or do they expect you to come in with training (like most ambulance corps)?
Gabriel Ross
Swarthmore, PA

Hal responds: Why feel silly? Nobody expects you to intuit this stuff.

The requirements for membership vary from team to team. In Aspen, they're pretty minimal: Wannabes must come to three general meetings and be currently medically certified at the First Responder level or higher. If there's room on the roster, at that point you will probably be voted in as a support member. You then get to do what everybody else does, within the discretion of the rescue leaders (an untested newbie isn't going to be put on the sharp end of the rope). To become a full member (which you must do within three years), you have to attend two classes taught by the rescue leaders at the local community college, and go through all the team's mandatory trainings. These include rescue training for avalanche, scree, high angle, snow, and swiftwater. There are lots of other trainings, too: GPS navigation, horse, snowmobile, etc.

What the team is really looking for is people who will show up consistently, do whatever needs to be done (not just on rescues, but cleaning the cabin, working the fundraisers, writing the newsletter, etc.), be team players, and be willing to learn. Volunteers also must have their own personal equipment. The team's pack requirements are that you be able to sustain yourself for 48 hours in the field without aid. Over time, you can spend a lot of money on gear. Volunteering for this team ultimately costs a lot of money and a lot of time. I've seen some of the most committed members put in close to 100 hours in a month.

You aren't expected to come in with training, although strong skills in an area like mountaineering or backcountry skiing are helpful. You are expected to be competent in the out-of-doors, and familiarity with your part of the world is helpful.

The minimal first-aid requirements may seem surprising--and, in fact, about half the Aspen team is EMT rated or higher. But the truth is, rescue work rarely gives the opportunity to provide a lot of medical care. Generally, the team's job is to get somebody out as quickly as possible, and not screw around with IVs and other toys. The acronym LAST spells out the usual M.O.: Locate, Access, Stabilize, Transport. (Then go back to town and drink beer.)

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