Training Lessons Learned Through Search and Rescue

Training Lessons Learned Through Search and Rescue

During my time as a search and rescue volunteer and K9 handler I learned a lot about leadership, teamwork, training and trust.  These 4 foundational areas of an organization’s culture are oh-so-important in any group, but they are critical when the mission is saving lives and every minute counts.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be writing about how the lessons I learned in search and rescue translate into business and how theses foundation pieces build successful organizations and how ignoring cracks in your foundation can lead to catastrophic results.  Last week we talked about trust and today’s topic is training.


We all come into this world with just basic life skills – eating, sleeping, and, well, you know.  Our parents or guardians teach us, help us, and we develop, building each skill upon the other until we have a solid foundation of general knowledge.  Along the way we learn what we are passionate about and choose to focus on a specific area or field.  Then we learn some more.

When I elected to join my husband as a search and rescue volunteer and journey down the path to becoming part of the team, I had no knowledge about the field.  None whatsoever. Zilch. Nada.  My hubby had experience working as an EMT on a volunteer ambulance crew, but I was as green as a grassy meadow on a crisp spring day.  It was time to train.  I embarked on a journey where I learned about wilderness navigation, rope tying, belaying, emergency medicine, hypothermia, avalanches, managing a search, scent patterns, tracking, basic law enforcement, water currents and how to be a dog handler as well as a public information officer. It wasn’t easy and it took dedication and a lot of hard work.  I was fortunate to study under some incredible folks who had years of experience and astounding patience.  They mentored and nurtured me while I watched, listened and gradually acquired some competence. They coached me through certifications, tests, and cheered me on during my first mission.  Slowly, we gained trust in each other. A trust that grew stronger and stronger until I trusted these people with my life.

Now, I realize that in the day-to-day operations of the business of government there are not usually literal life or death situations. However, the time invested training your team and building trust could be the difference between successful or failing operations. On a new hire’s first day on the job they have a basic foundation of education but it’s up to you and your team to take the time to mentor, teach, and provide necessary guidance.  A newly promoted manager who has never supervised before needs instruction on how to handle the demands of their new position. If the “sink-or-swim” method is employed rather than giving them the tools to be successful, there will be a direct impact to business.  This shows up as increased turnover, lower productivity, upset customers and diminished or nonexistent morale.

On the other hand, it can be just as detrimental if you are providing the training opportunity to an employee who isn’t willing to learn. The bottom line is that they are probably not the right fit for your team and it is time for a tough decision.

Training is hard work. It takes dedication on the part of the trainee and the trainer. Whether you are rappelling the side of a cliff or digging through a mountain of paperwork, your education and on-the-job training makes all the difference in the world.  If you are the trainee, make an effort, put in the time and be open to learn. Absorb the experiences and knowledge of others.  If you are lucky, one day you will have the opportunity to teach others and be a mentor.  Embrace this – it’s now your time to pay it forward.