Lost and Found... the newsletter of Volume 4, Issue 2
11 February 1999
Editors: Tom Russo, Mike Dugger,
and Susan Corban

Cibola Search and Rescue
"That Others May Live..."
Top of the Hill Boots and Blisters Pinching Pennies
Who's Who and New Gearing Up Mini Lesson
Public Relations NMESC Notes Feature Article
Web News Disclaimer
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Top of the Hill by Larry Mervine
When we respond to a call, our thoughts are that the lost or injuried subject is alive. Sometimes our search or rescue subject ends as a fatality. Even the most hardened, tough professional and experienced EMTs, Officers, Nurses, Firefighters, Physicans, or Dispatchers or anyone who responds to emergencies will discover that sometimes: "This one got to me!" Mission 992003 may be one of those missions for you. Each individual responds differently. Many teams members who responded to this mission attended a CISD session. For the rest of us, I would like to list warning signs and helpful tips to help us return to normal behavior. The information is taken from the New Mexico Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team brochure.

  Physical Reactions:
   changes in sleep patterns,
   changes in appetite,
   stomach trouble,
   shakes/chills,
   diarrhea or constipation,
   headache,
   shortness of breath,
   rapid or irregular heartbeats,

 Mental/ Emotional Reactions:
   depression / confusion,
   self criticism,
   blaming self& others,
   anger/ guilt,
   dreams or flashbacks,
   identfication with victims,
   noticing similarities between victims,
   and own family members,

 Behavioral Reactions:
   withdrawing/excessive talking,
   irritability,
   hyperactivity or excessive fatigue,
 

Some useful things to accelerate your return to normal:

   exercise intensely,
   share your feelings with others, family or team members,
   allow your emotions to come out, safely with or without help,
   write it down,
   connect with your spiritual strength,
   eat a healthy diet,
   avoid extra sugar, cafferine alcohol and tobacco,
   postpone major decisions
 

Only you know how you feel, but you are not alone nor the only one with similar reactions. These reactions are the result of an abnormal event. You are experiencing the stress from a critical incident. So watch fellow team members. Do not be critical, but rather be understanding. One day you might be the one feeling bad. If you are experiencing a problem call the hot line or talk to other team members. Back to Top
Boots and Blisters by Tom Russo
First things first: the PACE committee has added a few things since most of us passed the test. For one thing, they added a field test of your ability to perform map-to-field and field-to-map computations. And they added a requirement that you carry a ten-foot length of one-inch tubular webbing. The webbing is a useful enough item that many team members have been carrying it anyway: it adds to your ability to "adapt and improvise" as a certain FC of our acquaintance is fond of saying (followed by a wheeze or two). You might also consider carrying a locking carabiner along with the webbing, because you can then make a very simple "diaper sling"-type climbing harness; it's uncomfortable as anything, but it'll probably hold you for those pucker-inducing unplanned descents.

On reporting UTM coordinates from your GPS: Next, remember how clearly I explained why it was useless to read GPS displays to all digits of precision? My doctor has prescribed one large crow to be taken orally each day: there's a good reason for reading the display exactly as it appears. Yes, the unit is only accurate to the nearest 100 meters, but if you perform the truncation in your head you add one more thing that can go wrong in your communication with base camp. So this is why you might be asked for all the digits, not because someone in base camp thinks they are useful, but because someone in base camp wants to make absolutely certain that you read it correctly. This point was made crystal clear during our January land navigation training.

At one point during the course one of our team members who had a new GPS unit decided to use it to report a position. The transmission, which was attempted in kilometers with truncation, was:

    Ok... we're at 376.09 Easting and 38804.67 North
 

There were two things wrong with that. For starters, if you're going to report kilometers with one digit past the decimal point, only put one digit past the decimal point. And then make sure you put the decimal point in the right place. Properly truncated and converted from meters to kilometers, the team member's position would have been 376.1 Easting and 3880.5 Northing. The people at "incident base" were left to re-interpret this transmission and make assumptions about what went wrong. The assumption was "Oh, the last digit of easting was dropped, and the decimal place in the northing is shifted one over" but this was not necessarily what had happened. In fact, any of the easting digits could have been dropped and we wouldn't have known which one it was. A follow-up transmission from Training Incident Base cleared it up:

  Um... did you mean "376.1 easting and 3880.5 northing?
 
But then again, since the whole reason for truncating would have been to shorten transmissions, we clearly accomplished nothing and actually accomplished even worse than nothing.

So to make a long story just one more paragraph longer, you shouldn't do interpretation of your GPS screen yourself --- just pass along information and let the incident management team do the interpretation and truncation. BUT it would still be correct to read coordinates off your map to be precise only to the 100 or 10 meter digit,and in this case it would be OK to read in kilometers with a decimal point, because the position of the decimal point would be obvious to you from the labeling of the UTM grid on the map. But whatever you do: if you're asked to do differently by incident command, do as you are asked!

January's Nav training

This was a phenomenal success. It was well attended, and those who attended said they learned a lot. There was one major complaint, and that was regarding the time we alloted for it: we'd figured on fewer people coming out, and figured on most of them running the course quicker. Only the first team out ran the course in exactly the time we'd guessed (three hours), most of the others took four or five hours. Next time we offer it we'll be more conservative in setting the times. Nobody seemed to think that we should have left things out in order to get the class done in the time we'd stated, not even the person who was late getting home for an anniversary dinner with his wife (although she might have something different to say on the matter).

I won't write up any more about this training here, but I have written up a "debriefing" page on the website --- it includes maps of the training area, and when I get some in writing, it will include feedback from participants. There was sufficient positive feedback given that I'm thinking I might do this one again in September, if folks would like it.

February's Winter Skills training

This will be taught by Larry Mervine and Don O. Gibson and will be at the site of the Mount Taylor Quadrathlon. If there is insufficient snow to build snow shelters, we will just have to learn what to do on a real mission where it was cold but not snowy. Remember, the purpose of our winter skills bivy is to see how the gear we carry with us on every search could be used to make sure we can get up in the morning and not have to view the bivy sight from above while plucking a harp. It's great practice, it's fun, and I encourage you all to participate.

NMSARST training

New Mexico SAR Support Team is holding a training at the Juan Tabo/Comanche branch of the Sandia Laboratories Federal Credit Union at 8a.m.-11a.m. on Saturday, 20 February. The topic will be on weather, its effects on subjects and searchers, and its dangers. Speakers will include Keith Hayes from the National Weather Service (NWS) who will speak about New Mexico weather and how New Mexico SAR interfaces with the NWS, Adair Peterson who will talk about a heat-related fatality in the Grand Canyon, and Jen Semon from AMRC who will discuss the latest treatment for heat and cold related injuries.

Evaluations

I will continue to hold evaluations on one topic per month. The evaluation date will always be the weekend prior to the month's training and on the opposite day: if a training's on Saturday, that month's eval will be on Sunday. January's was litter, February's was Land Nav, and March's will be Search Techniques. I'll cycle through these in this order.

Please note that nothing prevents evaluators from arranging evaluation sessions at other times, too. So far, we have Mike Dugger and Terry Hardin certified as litter evaluators, and Larry Mervine and Mike Dugger are certified as search techniques and land nav evaluators. ANYONE may ask to be certified as an evaluator, and having asked may be certified if the following conditions are met:

The reasoning is this: I am, by team decision, responsible for making sure folks get certified according to our standards, and while I can delegate that task to you I cannot delegate the responsibility: I have to be convinced that you will do the job at least as well as I would have; if I were not so convinced I would not be living up to the responsibility. I am 100% behind the idea of having many certified evaluators, not only because it's good for the team to get people involved in its procedures, but also beccause it sure as heck saves me from having to do it all myself.

On future trainings: I've got the following trainings "planned" for after ESCAPE:
JuneLitter
JulySearch Techniques (evening/night?)
August?(4WD? Bivy?)
SeptemberMap and Compass?
If you have a strong feeling about what should be offered after July and/or would very much like to lead a training in these months, I implore you to get in contact with me. On either point, I can't know what you want unless you let me know in so many words.

Happy trails.


Hike of the MonthOtero Canyon0800, Feb 27, 1999
Trailhead: 3.8 miles south of 4-way stop in Tijeras on Hwy 337 South
R.T. Distance: 4 milesElevation Min/Max: 6800/7200
Hiking Time 4 hoursHazards: Fast-moving mountain bikers
Topo Maps: Sedillo Quadrangle
Drive to Tijeras, go south on Hwy 337 3.8 miles from the 4-way stop, past the Sandia Ranger Station. When you get to the trailhead you will see James Newberry's blue & white Toyota Landcruiser. There is plenty of parking. So, come one and all! This trail is heavily used by mountain bikers and motorcycles. Sounds like the site of a future litter evacuation! We will hike south on the trail approximately 1.75 miles to the boundary of Kirtland AFB where there is an old fire tower. We will turn around at that point and return to the cars or explore more, depending on the wishes of the group.
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Pinching Pennies by Mike Dugger
I'm starting to get a handle on how the team finances work, but I expect to lean on Melissa for a while yet. I am in the process of evaluating trial copies of commercial accounting software to make this job easier for the non-accountant. By next month I expect to have selected a software package, and moved the team finances over to that format. This should make the job easier for future treasurers.

The budget committee will meet as soon as possible after we receive our annual statement of contributions from United Way and the Combined Federal Campaign. This usually takes place late in February, so check the team hotline weekly for information on this meeting. We will plan the team's budget for the year based on anticipated expenditures and income. Everyone is invited to participate in drafting a budget for approval by the team. Committee chairmen and officers should submit their budget requests to me as soon as possible, but no later than the budget meeting. Back to Top
Who's Who and New by Susan Corban
Amber Pickel, Curtis Crutcher and Paul Donovan have now had their Cibola orientation and have started attending missions. Please welcome them and help them out on missions and trainings. Welcome, we're glad to have you with the team.

Steve Meserole is now an active member. Welcome aboard. Back to Top
Gearing Up by Mike Dugger
All the 800 MHz radios on loan to CSAR were returned to the NM Emergency Services Council on January 15.

I have established a rotation of people who volunteered to haul our gear to missions and act as pager #2 point of contact, and these are now part of our phone list. I hope we can now just rotate through this list each month to determine the pager #2/gear-hauler, and all people performing that job have a quick reference for others who know how to do it. If you have a vehicle with a large cargo capacity, and would be willing to haul our gear to missions one month out of every 6 or so, please let me know.

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Mini Lesson by Mike Dugger

Low-Hassle Hot Food and Drinks on SAR Assignments

Why Carry a Stove?

Some think the luxury of hot meals and beverages in the outdoors should be reserved for the casual backpacking trip, where the responsibility for carrying a stove and fuel can be divided up among participants. Few would argue that a multiple-course hot meal, prepared fresh and accompanied by coffee, tea or hot chocolate adds a refined air to a backcountry experience. But is such luxury really necessary, or even appropriate, during the high anxiety and urgency of a search and rescue assignment? Consider the following. Dry wood and kindling is not always readily available from which to start a fire. You may be asked to bivy in a remote location until dawn, in cold weather. Sure, you can survive on energy bars and water, but you would probably be more fit to carry out a physically challenging assignment after a hot meal and a good night's rest. Also think of the subject. Warm drinks offer an excellent means of slow core warming and providing necessary fuel to mildly hypothermic subjects. Warm, sweetened gelatin is one of the best drinks to offer for its protein and carbohydrates. Even if you can warm your MRE with a chemical heater (or in your armpit or other unmentionable places), a stove comes in handy for hot beverages that can really make a difference when temperatures drop.

Types of Stoves

OK, so maybe you SHOULD carry a stove. But what kind? For the kind of use a stove in your SAR pack is likely to get, the most important factors are reliability, ease of use, compactness, and low weight. Kerosene stoves have come a long way in recent years, and very compact models are available. Carrying liquid fuel can be a hassle for a couple of reasons, though. If you have ever spilled, or had a friend who spilled liquid fuel inside their pack, you have an appreciation for one of the reasons. It is oily and evaporates slowly. They can also be hard to start in extremely cold weather, because the generator must be heated sufficiently to vaporize the fuel before it reaches the burner for optimum performance, and this takes longer the colder it is. Another hassle is that the highly refined kerosene for these stoves can be tough to find between Carrizozo and Capitan at 2 o'clock in the morning. Some can burn gasoline in a pinch, but this tends to clog the generator if you're not careful, and then you are without a stove again. Finally, compact kerosene stoves can be expensive. Stoves that burn compressed gas such as butane get around the liquid fuel problems, but the gas canisters can be hard to find, and you have to carry the empty canisters until you can dispose of them properly. Aside from all of these considerations, SAR packs and the gear inside take a beating during bushwhacking and getting hauled around in vehicles with other packs and people piled on top. Most kerosene and compressed gas stoves have rather delicate structures that don't stand up well to someone sitting on them over a four-wheel drive road. Below I'll describe good fuel sources for SAR emergency stoves, and provide instructions on how to build a pot stand for little more than the price of a campfire song.

Types of Fuel

There are obviously many ways to apply heat to the bottom of a pot, but for a serviceable emergency stove you want a fuel that burns hot enough and long enough to boil water within a few minutes, as well as one that is rugged and not messy. The two most effective and convenient fuels I have seen used are solid fuel tablets or bars and sterno cans. The most popular solid fuels for backcountry cooking are hexamine (hexamethylene tetramine, (CH2)6N4) tablets and trioxane (1,3,5-trioxane, C3H6O3) bars. Both burn with a smokeless flame, and much hotter than wood. Trioxane melts at 61 degrees C, and hexamine melts at 280 degrees C, so either would be OK to carry in your pack. Fuel tablets and bars are solid and hence quite rugged, without the mess of liquid fuel. They can be hard to find, but are cheap so you can buy a case and keep a supply stashed in your pack. They are totally consumed during the combustion process, so there is no trash left to be hauled out. The tablets get charred and messy once used, so it is not very practical to extinguish and reuse the fuel.

Some sources for these solid fuels are: Armed Forces Merchandise Outlet (www.afmo.com/scategory/scat-32.html, (800) 282-3327), 18 bars trioxane for $4.50, or 6 hexamine tablets for $1.49. IMS Plus (www.imsplus.com/ims28.html, (618) 655-0383), 3 bars trioxane for $1.00, case of 250 boxes for $150, or 5 hexamine tablets for $1.75, case of 500 tablets for $145.

Sterno cans are the same kind of heaters used under those big dishes of food at a buffet. It consists of a little sealed can of wax, which is solid when not in use so it stores easily. These are cheap but can be hard to find, so buying in quantity is probably the answer here too. For heating, simply open the can, light the top of the wax, and place it under your pot. When you are done cooking, they can be blown out to allow the wax to solidify, then closed up and stuffed back in your pack. These are also quite rugged and convenient since they are solid except when in use. I suppose on a really hot day, if the lid were to come off you could end up with a mess inside your pack. But a sealed bag around the can would solve this potential problem. When all the fuel is gone, you have just a small can left to haul out to the trash.

Alcohol has been used as fuel in emergency stoves for decades. It does have the difficulties of transportation and potential mess of other liquid fuels, but it is not as oily or smelly as kerosene, and evaporates quickly if spilled. I found instructions to build a simple alcohol stove by M.M. Brown, American Survival Guide, Vol. 21 (1999) pp. 70-73. The basic idea for the burner is to cut off the bottom of two aluminum soda cans about 1.25 to 1.5 inches from the bottom. In one of the bottoms, drill 4 or5 holes in the center with a 1/16 inch bit, and then 16 to 32 holes around the outer edge where the can would rest on the table. Cut 4 to 6 slits in the side of this piece so it will fit down inside the other piece when inverted. The other bottom becomes the lower half of the stove, which is filled about 1/2 full with a porous material (ideally pearlite) and denatured alcohol. The top is put on, and the stove can be lit by passing a match over the top. It apparently burns for about 20 minutes. The author says that in a pinch, a rolled up piece of cotton can be used as the porous media, and rubbing alcohol as the fuel. I tried to build the stove this way, figuring that if I have to hunt up pearlite and denatured alcohol this was no more convenient than the solid fuels. When I built the stove this way, I could not even get it lit. Perhaps I did something wrong, and I invite the interested person with a little time on their hands to give this a try, but my rationale was that if the stove was this touchy in my kitchen, it was not reliable enough for SAR use.

Stands

Stands can be purchased individually from outdoor equipment providers and military surplus stores, typically for a few bucks. These all consist of some sort of metal plate and/or wire frame that can hold a pot off the ground, and a space to put a heat source under it. I purchased a simple stamped-and-riveted metal frame a few years ago at a local discount store that folds into a thin box (about 1" x 3" x 4") for storage of my solid fuel, and folds open to provide a pot stand in use. I have seen other metal frames which fold completely flat for storage, and then similarly open up to provide a pot stand. Either of these types of stands will work fine, or you can make one easily. Find a coffee can or other large can that is 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the pot you plan to carry for heating water. Cut off the top of the can so you are left with a short cylinder about an inch taller than your burner (solid fuel, canned fuel, or whatever). Bend over about 1/8 inch of the edge all the way around to get rid of sharp points. Drill some holes near the top of the cylinder just large enough for a coat hanger wire to go through. The holes should be drilled so that you can put several parallel wires across the top of the can close enough together to hold your pot. Cut lengths of wire about 1/4 inch longer than required to go across the can, put through the holes and bend the ends over to hold the wire in place. It is also a good idea to cut some notches in the bottom of the cylinder so air can get to the fuel. Now you can get your fuel going, set this cylinder over the top of your fuel, and cook away! Good luck, and bon apetit. Back to Top
Public Relations by David Dixon
Kudos again to Susan Corban for her team dedication and commitment in '98 to Public Relations and recruitment. Her efforts have produced many of the new faces we've seen at recent meetings. Her organization certainly made my transition easier and to her I say "thank you." To new people we say "welcome" and we hope to see you in the future at trainings, missions and other SAR functions.

The PR Committee continues on with our goals for 1999. Our primary goal is a 50% increase in membership. We can all help with that. Do you know someone who would be a candidate for this busy, crazy and selfless world of search and rescue? Get them involved. It takes a special person like yourself. Maybe you know another one.

We are continuing to work on getting sources for presentations, especially recruitment. This month we're giving a short talk to Trailwatch Volunteers on their Trails Day, Saturday, Feb. 20 from 1:00-1:15p.m., and we could use a few members to help out with this one. On March 18 we'll be giving a presentation on Outdoor Preparedness at REI. Let me know if you're interested in these or anything in the future or if you know of a presentation source. PR events will be posted on the newsletter and hotline.

I will hold Committee meetings on the last Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Frontier Restaurant. But there will not be a meeting every month so look for them in the newsletter, hotline or email (to committee members). Everyone is welcome. If you want to become a permanent member let me know. Back to Top
Web News by Tom Russo
Once again, most of this month's web action has been on behind-the-scenes stuff, with one little exception: training records are now on-line. At present all you can do with the database is look up a given training's record, and at the bottom of the information page produced by the "lookup members" function you'll see the trainings you have gone to. The purpose of this, of course, is to lighten the load on those of us who have to sift through those records every six months to make sure everyone's been to two trainings; [takes off editor's visor and puts on training officer's hat] please remember that you need to come to two trainings every six months[replaces ratty green visor]. But to keep this from being just another boring recordkeeping device, I've added a few features: for every training that has a handout saved on the web --- and I hope that will be most of them --- there will be a link from the training record page directly to the handout that was used for that particular training. And I've also set up a way of linking from the training record page to a web page which I'm calling a "debriefing page," where the instructors and attendees can write up a summary of what happened at the training; folks that missed the training can therefore get a little benefit from the experiences of those who attended[again removing visor] but not all the benefit[replaces visor]. Unlike newsletter submissions and normal database entry, the production of debriefing pages is not automated on the web at all, and involves me taking information and creating a web page for it. If it turns out to be a popular thing I'll work on making it easier for folks to put information onto those debriefing pages.

The training information database is accessible from the "database functions" section of the membersonly web page.

If you're a new member and haven't gotten on to the membersonly pages, please see me for the password.

Late Breaking News:Rumor has it that someone has actually logged in to the website with a user id of "wheezer." Film at 11.


The team website can be accessed at http://www.cibolasar.org/
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NMESC Notes by Nancy O'Neill
The Helicopter School is scheduled for March 27 at the CAP Bldg. on Kirtland Air Force Base. Details should appear in the next NMESC newsletter, as should the registration form for ESCAPE. The other item worth bringing up is that the board would like to have names of active NMESC SAR people who would like to be nominated to the NMESC board. Remember, this board is only as good as it's elected members. So, if you would like to submit a name, contact Mickey Jojola, Kaye Sinclair or me with your nomination. Back to Top
Regarding Suicidal SAR Subjects by Susan Corban and David Dixon
Most live subjects are relieved to be found. They want to return with searchers. But what do you say to the suicidal subject who is reluctant to leave? What reactions might this subject produce in you?

Suicide is the number one killer of people between 15 and 19 years of age in the U.S. and third highest killer in those 19-25. While not all suicidal people travel to the wilderness, SAR volunteers will encounter suicidal subjects. What follows is written to help the search process and the encounter with a suicidal individual.

Behaviors that Impact Search Strategy

The behavior of a suicidal subject is likely to differ from that of a person who is lost. Suicidal subjects are more likely to climb up to a pinnacle or higher ground. The lost person tends to travel downward. The lost person, if conscious, will respond to searchers calling his or her name. The suicidal subject may not. You may be dealing with someone who is conscious and physically fine, but mentally unresponsive.

There are factors known to increase the risk of lethality. If the subject went out with a plan or specific intent the risk is higher. If any notes were left behind, that reflects planning and intent. Lethality also differs for male and female subjects. Femalse are more likely to attempt suicide, while male subjects are more likely to complete the suicide. Individuals who have attempted suicide repeatedly have the highest completion rate. Weapons or alcohol and drugs also increase lethality of an incident. Males are more likely to use firearms and weapons than females. An intoxicated or drugged person is more unpredictable. Know whether the subject entered the wilderness with a weapon. If they carried a gun, the search focus should be on tracking. Sound attraction will not work in this case since the subject is probably trying to avoid searchers.

On the other hand, if a subject was just depressed, the risk of lethality is lower. Someone who just lost a spouse or was recently divorced may be at a higher risk, but a person who is depressed is not necessarily suicidal.

These factors will provide strategy for incident command staff, but searchers can also ask questions about these factors to help when encountering the subject out in the wilderness. In a regular search it is always important to know some things about the subject. This is especially important with the suicidal person. Knowing some aspects of the person may make a difference when you confront that person. You may have to quickly assess the situation and respond accordingly.

A SAR Volunteer's Choices Regarding the Suicidal Subject

The search for a suicidal subject is viewed as a law-enforcement situation by some Field Coordinators. Some take the view that this is not an appropriate situation for SAR volunteers and will not involve SAR volunteers. There is the potential for the presence of weapons and a volatile situation. There may be the need for a professional counselor or psychiatrist in the situation. SAR volunteers must be cognizant of the possibilities and the differences from searching for a person who is lost. There are risks for the SAR volunteer beyond the usual wilderness survival risks which we have all knowingly taken. If you learn that weapons are involved, you should decline the mission, or if you hear of a weapon over the radio, immediately leave the area and the mission. From the view of the FC, the subject may be alive in the first time period after the mission is initiated. In later time periods, the search may turn to a body recovery. This situation is safer for SAR volunteers. So, as a volunteer, be aware of the possibilities and make choices on the basis of these possibilities. Don't just respond, assuming this is like any other mission.

As in any SAR situation, your personal safety and well-being should be priority. If an FC accepts a mission, and you do choose to search for a live but suicidal subject, and it becomes apparent that a weapon is involved, leave the area immediately. Once you are safe, call for law enforcement from the Forest Service or State Police. If other dangers are part of the situation (bad weather, subject on a cliff) your safety is still priority. You may not save this person's life. You may not prevent a suicide and you certainly don't want the subject to take you with them. If you encounter the subject, even without a weapon, stay at a distance of six feet or more.

Guidelines for Interacting With the Suicidal Subject

The SAR volunteer's objective is to locate a subject and bring that individual back to incident base. We aren't trained counselors, but in the case of suicidal subjects, practicing skills of listening and acceptance may help negotiate the return of the subject safely to base. In the encounter, your objective is to buy time until the subject can get help with his or her problems at another time and place.

Expect that it may take some time before the subject is ready to depart. For the subject, talking to a stranger about painful or personal information is not easy. The SAR volunteer can decrease the subject's stress by being relaxed, patient and accepting. Being a good listener is the most important thing. This means silencing your own judgements and values in order to provide a non-threatening situation for the subject. But remember that you cannot play God.

The following information reflects the approach taken by counselors and crisis centers. You might benefit from understanding the approach, but as SAR volunteers this is beyond the scope of our practice. If you are not willing or able to take the crisis counseling approach, at least remember to keep your voice even. Don't raise or lower your voice. Be singular in your purpose by letting the subject know, repeatedly, that you both need to "leave this ledge and return to base camp." Whatever the subject has to do, he or she must not do on your time in this place. And, very importantly, don't become entrapped in the subject's problems.

The Crisis Counseling Approach

First, define the situation. Explain your identity. Sit down, get comfortable. This is part of "patient and relaxed." It indicates that you are willing to spend time and listen. It also keeps you from standing over the person. It's ok to ask the subject if he or she is considering suicide. Don't be afraid to talk about it, you won't be giving them any new ideas. The subject may want to tell you their story. Allow them to do so. Be prepared to stay with the person while hearing what has happened to them and what they are feeling. Being patient and accepting the time this takes may be difficult. You can ask the subject to let you know when he or she is ready to go, but try not to make them feel hurried.

The subject may express feelings of depression, hopelessness, guilt, anger, betrayal, self-criticism and blame, and embarrassment. The subject may talk about their plan for suicide. Take all suicidal comments seriously. "All or nothing" thinking on the part of the subject reduces his or her sense of alternatives to "life or death." Developing a sense of other options is crucial to releasing the notion that suicide is the only alternative. Staying with that person until a sense of alternatives to what he or she is thinking or feeling develops may turn the situation.

If you can assess whether the person is just down and out or really wants to die, you will know just how lethal the suicide attempt may be. "I don't want to live" is very different from "I want to die." Is there fearfulness or looking forward to suicide? If there is immediate urgency, your need to buy time is greater. Tomorrow the person can commit suicide, but not while you have them in your contact. Remember, you're buying time, not fixing the problems.

After the person has had a chance to talk about his or her bad feelings for a while, gently turn the conversation to more positive things. Offer support and encouragement. Reinterpret in a positive manner. Talk about the person's courage in sharing with you. Discuss alternatives to the all or nothing thinking pattern. Remind the subject that hope exists. What support system can the person build? Remind the subject of resources for help. Encourage the person to take things one step at a time. Be genuine and direct. It's ok to let them know if you are uncomfortable. Avoid arguments, problem solving, advice giving or making the person feel the need to justify his or her feelings. Of course, don't tell the person that he or she is crazy.

It's usually good to get the person to talk. Often, the more the person talks, the more that he or she will come around. It may be necessary to be authoritative and take charge. Most people contemplating suicide do not want to die. Most do it as a cry for help or to end the pain they feel. Ask if it's ok to contact others to let them know the person is ok, that others care about them.

Try to terminate the situation with the person's agreement not to hurt him or herself before speaking to a professional or someone for help. Buy more time if this doesn't happen. If all else fails, deterring the person with guilt may buy time. Only use these if you are sure nothing else will work. (You don't want to make the person feel worse or add to the self-criticism.) Things like "how will your children (friends, family) feel? You'll leave them with guilt and pain. Who will take care of them?" or "You're copping out; you're taking the easy way out," or "I know you could kill yourself. But give yourself one last chance. It's your life!"

Searchers will also need to deal with their own feelings. A searcher's stress, discomfort, anxiety, impatience, judgements, and so forth need to be withheld in order to establish a rapport with the subject. This is a very stressful situation. Letting yourself go into the person's worst feelings with them will allow the person to find out that those feelings aren't as scary as they might have feared. But it's very demanding for the listener. After the encounter, talk to someone you trust about it.

Thanks to the UNM Agora Crisis Center, Carol Wagner-Adams, and Don Gibson for the information in this article. Back to Top
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The information in this newsletter was gathered from many sources and presents facts as we believe them to be true. This newsletter is not meant to be an official document, but a means to disseminate team information.