SANDY, Ore. — Local search and rescue volunteers respond to citizens who are lost or seriously hurt. Sadly, far too often, the rescues become recoveries.
Because of the challenges volunteer searchers face, they are often exposed to some extremely dangerous conditions, and they can experience extreme stress and trauma that negatively impacts many of them. For some, extreme stress following a traumatic event can be overwhelming, and can include lasting psychological effects if left untreated.
The two-and-a-half-day course is taught by Richard Goerling, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander, active police lieutenant and affiliate faculty at Pacific University School of Graduate Psychology, and Laura M., a nurse practitioner and stress and resilience adviser.
The intensive training provides search and rescue volunteers tools for both individual and team resilience, retention and performance. It focuses on four main areas of study:
"Because they are volunteers, they don’t have access to the things you would have if you were in paid law enforcement or paid professional roles," Laura told KATU. "Fire, law enforcement already have peer support teams, but we have never seen that in mountain rescue and ski patrol."
Trainers are using the Stress Continuum Model (SCM), which is used by combat medics and in the military.
SCM is a color-coded chart with four zones representing different levels of stress. The four zones are the green "ready" zone, the yellow "reacting" zone, the orange "injured" zone, and the red "ill" zone. Consider the zones in terms of a traffic light, where green is good to go, and red means stop. Yellow and orange are progressive warning lights, between go and stop.
After this training, the goal is for search and rescue team leaders to identify a stressed rescuer and offer support.
Instructors say asking the right questions is a good way to start.
"Instead of calling folks and saying, 'How are you doing?' Which every rescuer says, 'We’re fine!'" Laura said. "We want to get more skilled at the conversation. Say, 'You know, how was your sleep, what are your connections like?'"
Instructors say trauma and exposure can cause stress injuries. Addressing these injuries early, often lead to healthier lives and higher retention in stressful jobs, such as search and rescue, firefighting and law enforcement.
"These volunteer leaders will become resources themselves," Laura said, "and share best practices with their teams."
Octavo Marin, a Multnomah County Search and Rescue volunteer and team leader, is attending the training workshop.
"My job as team leader is that [the searchers] are the best for the job," Marin said, "and that includes personal mental health."
Marin has participated in a number of searches and recoveries over the past three years.
On the job, Marin says he compartmentalizes stress.
"In the moment, there is a professional shield," he said. "I don’t see it as an emotional stress, I see it as a checklist. Once that ends, it becomes an emotional weight ... I have to be careful with that. I don’t want to put that weight on my loved ones."
Clackamas Federal Credit Union (CFCU) is sponsoring the training. CFCU donated $10,000. It is the sixth annual donation from CFCU to Mt. Hood Search and Rescue Council, which consists of nine counties from Hood River County to the coast. This workshop is being organized by the Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue team.