Kudos to the “First” First Responders
Every time I read a news report about someone being rescued, or protected from harm, it is usually the official emergency responders that get the acknowledgment.
The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (of which I am a member) gets a mention each time we head out to help someone in the mountains, which is nice, but certainly not essential for me or any of my teammates to make our contribution to the team, and the patient.
What rarely gets reported, in my experience with mountain rescue at least, is what happens in between the start of someone’s bad day and when emergency responders arrive. Someone had to find the person sick, injured or dying, and then report it to the authorities. Mostly, this involves a cell phone call to 911, but it could be a 4 mile run down a trail. For most of us it is human nature to want to avoid such traumatic events. Some do that by turning away, and some do it by trying to help. These are the ways in which we deal with second hand trauma, and in the end it is about minimizing how long such a situation exist, either in our minds, or in reality. Neither is right or wrong.
During the summer of 2012, a young man was found with serious injuries after a fall down a steep rocky gully in four-mile canyon, west of Boulder, CO. Some people hiking in the area heard some unexpected sounds and went to investigate, finding a scene that none of us deserve to see. They did what they could for the young man, calling for help, describing the location and the scene to the 911 dispatchers, guiding rescuers in and performing the basic first aid they could. They helped in a horrific situation, and were part of the emergency response for this mans life, which was sadly lost.
In 2008, RMR was called to rescue a climber in Eldorado Canyon who had been hit by a falling dinner table-sized rock. Most of the big bones in the legs of this climber were broken. He was still on a ledge 200 feet off the ground. When rescuers arrived there were at least 4 other climbers at his location. One of them had checked that the climbers rope was safe for rescuers to ascend, another did as much first aid as possible, then when rescuers arrived another used his world class climbing skills to set a anchor for the rescue, saving a significant amount of evacuation time. These climbers were the first 30 minutes of emergency response in this injured climbers life and death situation.
In 2011, a woman slid down a snowfield during a summer hike in the Indian Peaks wilderness, arriving at the rock field at the bottom at a speed that did enough damage to require a rescue. For two hours a physician’s assistant, who happened to be hiking nearby, stabilized the woman medically, and comforted her as rescuers approached from one direction and lightening approached from another. The victim was as comfortable as she could have been thanks to the ‘pre-rescuer care’ she received.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned performing mountain rescue, is that the smallest things can count towards saving a life, or at the very least can change the situation so the injured or sick can get to a place of comfort (physical or mental) much quicker. This lesson was cemented through a surprising and very personal event. During a rescue in the Flatirons a few years ago, my entire contribution to the two-hour evacuation was simply talking to someone with a severely broken and deformed ankle. The distress of a middle aged women evaporated as soon as she heard my Australian accent. Now I understand for some, that this accent is not exactly ‘music to the ears’, but it took her back 20 years to another life when she lived in South Eastern Australia. When I would talk she was back walking along a beach, or watching a kangaroo jump through the fields, and with no pain or embarrassment. When I stopped talking, she would feel the pain in her ankle, tear up and apologize for requiring 20 people to carry her off the mountain. Words were enough.
As rescuers we are kept busy with scene, teammate and bystander safety, rigging evacuation systems, and making decisions in stressful environments. In the end we get internal or external recognition of our efforts. We get to debrief rescues within the team, and that camaraderie provides the recognition and motivation we need. It seems essential that we also find a way to recognize those people who form the bridge between the start of a really crappy day for someone, and when emergency responders arrive. On mountain rescue calls, that time difference can be many hours, and without any dramatization, the contribution of those people can be critical.
We should all hope that we don’t have to be the one to hold a persons hand while they wait to be extracted from a crumpled car, and we should hope that we will ever need to hold a persons head still after a fall down a mountain, but please share the word…… if you do end up there, it can literally make the difference. It may be the difference for the immediate well-being of the patient, or it may be the difference for the haste of the subsequent rescue, but in the end it is of immense value, that in my experience doesn't get enough credit. Thanks to all of those people who have formed that bridge between an accident and emergency responders.
Guest Blogger Dan Lack is a Mission Leader and Training Director for Rocky Mountain Rescue and Region Chair for the Rocky Mountain Region.
Courage - Commitment - Compassion
Mountain Rescue Association