Michaela Merz's personal blog site

Doing Search & Rescue

Doing Search & Rescue

Updated 2023-01-05: I love the outdoors – especially our public lands. That’s one of the big reasons we selected New Mexico when we left Texas. There are hundreds and hundreds of square miles to explore, deserts, mountains, forests .. New Mexico has it all. No oceans though – but also no hurricanes. But there are plenty of lakes and streams – it’s not as dry and arid as one would think.

UPDATE (January 5th, 2023):

A few other serious SAR folks and I started a new Search&Rescue organization. We want to focus on trainings, mission readiness, accountability and professionalism. We are already set-up, the State of New Mexico has recognized us as a Search & Rescue asset and we have started training and disaster support in our community. Want to look us up? Go to https://www.pecosvalley.org/

But getting lost or injured while being out “there” is something to think about. We bought a Garmin satellite communications system and looked into how “Search & Rescue” actually works. Turns out, that (in New Mexico), search and rescue is a public service provided for free. Folks don’t have to pay for the assets used to find and recover them (unless private services like helicopters or ambulances become necessary) . I found that interesting: Being able to help while learning the dos and don’ts in a potentially hostile environment all while being able to enjoy the lands around us.

I found an alien in Roswell, NM.

So I looked up my closest SAR (Search & Rescue) team, attended a few meetings and finally put in my application. I was voted in and I started my journey into the world of SAR. I soon realized that being out of shape and overweight was a serious hindrance to becoming an effective asset. Sure – SAR also needs auxiliaries, but that wasn’t what I wanted to be. While preparing for the “Field Certification” – a process that qualifies a SAR member as being certified by the State Of New Mexico – my husband and I started a serious Keto diet in combination with long hikes around the country. Well .. we didn’t exactly start with “long” hikes – after all I was used to circling around the Walmart parking area until I found a spot as close to the entrance as possible. We started cautiously – increased the distance, the weight of the packs and the difficulty of the terrain. It wasn’t easy. We also added a time factor. Fast forward 6 months and we have lost around 50 pounds of weight and are confidently able to hike 4 Miles with 30 pounds of gear on our backs. Quite an accomplishment for a middle-aged (tilting towards the senior side of the graph) computer engineer who, not too long ago, did all of her physical fitness in VR with a game pad.

So – you ask – how is SAR? How many people have you rescued?

First: I went on one official mission but we were alerted too late and we unfortunately found the “subject” (the official term in order to avoid “victim”) deceased. As I mentioned before: New Mexico’s beautiful lands can become deadly if folks are not prepared. But our team also supports the community during events like races, providing marshals or blocking roads. I did a number of those events as well. We also maintain a high degree of mission readiness – a call to a mission can come any time, day or night, rain or shine. My backpack sits in the corner of our kitchen – containing an extensive first aid kit and everything else I might need to search in any kind of terrain or weather – and to be able to sustain myself for up to 24 hours out “there” .

But – not everything is “hunky dory”. SAR is based on volunteer organizations. Local teams are organized as 501(c)3 (charitable) organizations. Some teams are incredibly professional, others not so much. Some teams have great leaders, other teams have to deal with leadership that is not really good. Volunteers come and go. There’s a struggle to motivate folks to donate their spare time for training or missions. There is no monetary compensation for our efforts as SAR in New Mexico doesn’t get any funds from local, State or Federal sources. We even have to buy all of our gear ourselves. Though the State Of New Mexico is providing insurance coverage on missions and refunds expenses (like fuel), everything else is up to the local organizations and to the individuals going out to search for people.

So it’s a little bit of a miracle that SAR members show up at all when activated. They leave their jobs, their families to do an incredible demanding and potentially dangerous job to help somebody in need. They are not getting paid, they are not compensated for the loss of wages and they are not asking for anything in return.

I guess you really have to have a love for the wilderness and you really have to have a deep sense of duty to professionally and seriously fulfill the role of a Search&Rescue volunteer. And yes, there are those who see it that way. Others would like to – but may not be able to afford the loss of wages, have family situations that can’t be resolved or medical issues. But there are also those who are using the SAR label to adorn themselves while being unavailable whenever it becomes serious or strenuous.

As for me: I love the challenges – both physically and mentally. I started to train with the local volunteer fire department as they are better equipped and professionally led so that I can become a better SAR person. I especially look forward to learning technical and urban rescues. I am going to learn how to do water and swift water rescues and I am going to go to school again to climb up the SAR hierarchy.

SAR helped me to turn my life around. In return I am willing to give SAR as much time and attention as I can. I am a New Mexico certified Search&Rescue grunt. I will do whatever it takes to find and help anybody who needs help and I will do whatever it takes to become a better, more capable searcher and .. eventually .. leader.

2 thoughts on “Doing Search & Rescue

  1. Wow, what an inspiring turn of life! Thanks for sharing. What a significant personal and leadership challenge 🙂

    1. Thanks Ulf. I have updated the article. The challenges have quadrupled with our new outfit as I am now in charge and responsible to motivate, train and manage volunteers myself, learn all I can about how to run a not-for-profit, how to do fund raising and so on. A particular problem is my “German-ness” as many Americans are unaccustomed to facing a problem head-on. This has presented itself as a problem in the past and I had to adopt a less direct posture. But the team starts to realize that my way of approaching a task leads to results and they understand that it is not “grumpy” or “aggressive” – just a “no fuss” way of getting things done. Our new team, though small for the time being, is super cool, highly motivated and I trust them to be ready for whatever job we’re facing.

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