In our last episode, Peter Frick-Wright told the story of the time he broke his leg at the bottom of a remote canyon and was saved through the efforts of multiple search and rescue teams. Now, more than two years later, Peter is still processing what happened to him. Meanwhile, the rescuers who cared for him have participated in numerous other high-stakes incidents in the wilderness. This week, Peter speaks with one of the people who hauled him out of the canyon about the coping strategies that have worked—and haven’t—in the aftermath of a life-altering trauma. This episode was produced for the podcast Rescuer MBS, a show that aims to increase the resilience of the volunteer search and rescue community.
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Peter Frick-Wright (Host): The end of summer, every year, is rough. Two years ago, for the search and rescue community in the Pacific Northwest, it came as a kind of relief where normally body recoveries make up a small percentage of their missions. That year they'd had a lot.
[Cut to interview with a search and rescue worker, Marcel Rodriguez]
Marcel Rodriguez: Usually what would happen is we would have a recovery, and then, you know, six, eight, 10 missions, then a recovery. Six, eight, 10 missions, then a recovery. We had, um... I think we had 14 recoveries in a nine week period, something like that. It was up to just, yeah. And some of them were like, it was literally back to back, uh, recovery missions, which was very, very highly unusual.
Frick-Wright: This is Marcel Rodriguez of Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue. He was around that summer, and watched both the veterans and newbies and himself struggle with the volume and intensity of the rescues they were on.
Rodriguez: Um, you know, one of the statistics that comes out of... that they have for first responders is that fire police—you know, EMS, people who are doing search and rescue full time—they just inherently have a 10 to 15 year reduced life expectancy. Because of, you know… And that goes into all of the chronic stress that they carry throughout their careers, which then just, it builds up, and it builds up, and it builds up, and then it manifests itself in, you know, diabetes, and hypertension, and heart disease, and all of these different things that end up killing people much earlier than they should.
Frick-Wright: So Marcel decided to do something about it and started figuring out ways that he could make the rescue community more resilient. And part of his multi-pronged approach is a podcast, called Rescuer MBS: a play on the reading that climbing equipment gets for its minimum breaking strength.
Rodriguez: We really... we have no concept of our own minimum breaking strength. And so what we end up doing is we only discover what it was when we've passed it, and when we've had an injury. Because we've kept things bottled up and we haven't processed things correctly, and we've done too many things, seen too many things, without processing them correctly and haven't done the self care on the things that we do.
[End clip of interview with Marcel Rodriguez]
Frick-Wright: Last week on the podcast, we replayed the story of the time I broke my leg and had to be rescued by helicopter. Or, as we refer to it at my house, the Canyon Thing. Which necessitated some mental self care: during, and ever since, Marcel was on that rescue, and a few weeks ago he asked me to be on Rescuer MBS, looking back, two years later, on what I went through. So this week, I just want to play that conversation for you, both as a kind of update on my story, and if you are in the search and rescue community, an introduction to the fact that there are people in groups out there working to make the job easier to deal with.
Rodriguez: And you know, one of the things I'll kind of bring people together after a bad mission. I'll just say, you know, like, you know, some things leave a mark because they should. You know, some of the stuff that we see just isn't the kind of stuff that you should be able to shake off, and you do need to talk about it, and you do need to address it. Because it's just not... um, you know, there is no context for it. There's no, there's no world where that's right.
Frick-Wright: Here's that episode.
Frick-Wright: That was me and Pacific Northwest search and rescue ropes team coordinator, Marcel Rodriguez. This episode is produced by Marcel for his podcast Rescuer MBS, and brought to you by Bob's Red Mill: baking ingredients that provide proper nutrition for athletes. More at BobsRedMill.com/Outside.
The Outside Podcast is a production of Outside Integrated Media and distributed by PRX. We'll be back next week.
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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, which was developed in partnership with PRX, distributors of the idolized This American Life and The Moth Radio Hour, among others. We have since expanded our show and now offer a range of story formats, including interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and politics, as well as reports from our correspondents in the field.