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Monday, August 2, 2010

So Many Skills, So Little Time (To Get Rusty)

Now that I'm home in Arizona after three months in Nepal and getting back to SAR, I realize how rusty I am at a number of skills after not using them while I was away. I'm sure as I practice and review, what I feel like I've forgotten will come back fairly quickly. But on one recent mission, I found myself hesitating and really having to think about what I was doing when it came to certain skills that had been--or at least were becoming--more second nature before I left. It just goes to show that SAR work involves a lot of ongoing training and practice, and we can't take those skills for granted if we don't use them for a while.

So I was thinking about all the learning I've done since getting involved with SAR three years ago:

Man-tracking
Alternative navigation (things like using the stars, sun, and moon, pacing and reading terrain)
Map and compass
GPS
ATV operation
Snowmobile and snowcat operation
Knot-tying
Rappelling and ascending
Anchor systems
Lowering and raising systems for technical rescue
Patient packaging
Backcountry medical skills (Wilderness First Responder)
Mid-face pick-offs
Belaying
Rigging the litter for technical rescue
Truck and trailer training
Winch operation and safety
Helicopter safety
The National Incident Management System (NIMS training)
Alzheimer's and Dementia Patient Search

There have been important details like learning to attach the wheel to the litter, how to properly secure the ATVs to the trailer, how to estimate probability of detection. And the list goes on. Heck, I think I've learned more in three years of SAR than I did in five years of college. At least, more practical, hands-on skills.

So what's the point of this post? Oh, just sharing my thoughts as I get back up to speed after a few months away and then continue to learn and practice. And I would say to any new or perspective SAR member, search and rescue skills aren't something you learn once and then use now and again when you go on a mission. You really need to put the time in to practice, both on your own and as a team, on an ongoing basis, even if there are no missions for a while. Otherwise, you could find yourself on a real mission not remembering how to perform some important skills and therefore becoming more of a hindrance than a help.

Our team requires each member to participate in certain General SAR skills trainings (ie. GPS, map and compass, ATV operation, truck and trailer training, etc.) once every three years, but that's assuming we're practicing on our own and during missions in between. As far as our technical rescue team goes, we have to pass a basic skills test each year. What about your team (if you're on one)?