My SAR team is doing a recruiting cycle and this always leads to questions about what kind of person we need to join a SAR team. My answer is always “someone who does not want to be a hero”.
You’d think “being a hero” would be a worthy goal, but I’m going to tell you why the exact opposite is true.
We don’t need Heroes
Here’s how I define a hero in the context of emergency response.
A hero is someone who, without the proper training and equipment, and in an exceptional situation, risks their life for another.
Professional first responders (and I include SAR members as unpaid professionals) are not called to be heroes.
What others consider exceptional, we must consider ordinary. What might be a once in a lifetime situation for a regular person could happen to us any day. Our exposure to risk is more often, and for longer periods, and we have to work with that in mind.
We work as a team, we have training and equipment, and what’s more we have the professional responsibility to ourselves, our team members and the public to not do any further harm. This means we don’t endanger our team mates by exposing them or ourselves to additional hazard. If a rescuer is injured or killed, more rescuers have to risk their lives to save that person.
We are also trained to evaluate the risk, and mitigate that risk in various ways. We balance that with the possibility of success, and the chance that the subject is alive. This is why, after 10 days of searching, most wilderness searches are called off.
If I bring someone on to my team who I know wants to be a hero, they are a liability not an asset. I know that person is willing to act in an unsafe manner. I know they are willing to exceed the safety envelope, and possibly endanger themselves and hence the entire team. I do not want that person. I do not need the,
This is why I say “if you’re risking your life, you’re doing it wrong”.
Being a Hero
There are other definitions of a hero. Someone who saves another’s life by whatever means. Someone who gives their time and energy for free. Someone who sacrifices for another. If these are the bars we use for heroism then there are many more heroes in your life than you realize – a parent, a caregiver or a son or daughter who is caring for a parent. There are people who are struggling, and who give of themselves every day – and sometimes your story intersects theirs.
Here’s who I believe is a hero.
A friend of mine recently donated a kidney to a total stranger. I would go so far as to say that anyone who donates an organ to anyone is a greater hero than any SAR member can ever achieve. This person will never be in the spot light and will never get a medal recognizing this sacrifice – but he’s the one I think of when I think of the word “hero”.