While working in the White Mountain National Forest and assisting on search and rescue (SAR) missions, I quickly learned an invaluable lesson: Keep your cell phone on at all times. When officials from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the lead agency in charge of SAR in the state, initiate a rescue, they call on a legion of volunteers to provide support. And you better be ready to help.
Assistance comes in many forms, from carrying a litter bearing an injured hiker down a rugged trail to locating hikers who have wandered off course in the dark. Whatever the situation, these unpaid SAR volunteers put themselves in harm’s way to rescue people in every type of weather imaginable, during every month of the year. Volunteers assist on SAR not only because it’s a way to give back to the hiking community but also because some day, it might be one of them in need of help.
SAR volunteers Seth Quarrier, Joe Roman, and Tom Seidel work full time for AMC from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at the base of Mount Washington. They know all too well that, despite the workday ending at 5 p.m., their phones could ring at any time. They gave us some insight into what life as an SAR volunteer is like.
What skills does an SAR volunteer need?
Quarrier: It depends on what role in SAR you are taking. Most of the SARs I have been on were carry-out detail, where the primary requirements are being a strong hiker with good endurance and a strong back. A cool head, which is always something to aspire to, is probably the most important skill.
Roman: One has to be a competent hiker. Be ready for an eight-hourplus adventure. The worst thing that can happen is a volunteer becomes a second patient. But you don’t have to be Bear Grylls, either. You really just have to be prepared for an extended period of time in the woods.
How do you describe SAR?
Roman: SAR is hikers having the backs of other hikers. SAR volunteers are out there on their own time, looking for, or helping, someone whom they might not have ever met before. I like to think that the hiker community, in general, is looking out for each other, especially [in the Whites]. A lot of us know each other, and it feels good to know that when an SAR is requested there are people willing to change their plans to help a fellow outdoor enthusiast.
Why do you volunteer?
Roman: I feel like it is the right thing to do. I think most people have an intrinsic sense to help their fellow man, woman, or child. SAR is doing that at the rawest level. There is a stigma that only the weekend warriors or city folk need to be rescued, but it’s not true. I volunteer because it happens to everyone—experienced people too.
Seidel: To use my first-aid training to help other outdoor recreationists in times of need. I also enjoy being actively involved in a mountain community.