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Benjamin Yeamans — Always on call

Benjamin Yeamans of W88 Systems Engineering (W-4) volunteers at Atalaya Search and Rescue. A member of the technical rope rescue team, Ben helps rescue people trapped in difficult-to-access locations in the mountains of New Mexico.
December 18, 2018
  • Benjamin Yeamans
  • Benjamin Yeamans
  • Benjamin Yeamans
  • Jocelyn Buckley
“There are two things that I find satisfying about search and rescue. The first is being able to help people who find themselves trapped, injured or simply lost. And second, I really enjoy the team aesthetic—being able to successfully work with other members of my team in helping to rescue those who need rescuing.”

Always on call

Ben Yeamans
Ben Yeamans climbs down a steep cliff as part of a training exercise.

On an otherwise quiet Saturday morning, the New Mexico State Police in Santa Fe receives a frantic call from a hiker. She tells the dispatcher that her friend has fallen down a ravine and is trapped below, possibly injured. The dispatcher calls Santa Fe’s Atalaya Search and Rescue, an all-volunteer organization. 

Among the team responding to this incident is Benjamin Yeamans of W88 Systems Engineering (W-4). Working with other members of this specialized rescue team, he sets up a rope and pulley system so that he can descend into the ravine, bringing with him first-aid supplies and what is called a Stokes basket, a customized type of stretcher designed to immobilize a victim to ensure safety and comfort. It is up to the team above to carefully lower Ben to the hiker below. Ben loads the injured hiker into the basket, which is raised to safety by the haul team stationed above.

The injured and frightened hiker is now relieved, thanks to these volunteer rescuers. 

“I had some friends who volunteered at Atalaya Search and Rescue,” says Ben. “They convinced me to attend a recruiting event, and it worked. I joined the team and have been there for about three years.”

Ben says that there are several search and rescue teams stationed in Santa Fe, all of which are 100 percent volunteer and not for profit. Although skill sets of the teams overlap, the team at Atalaya specializes in technical rope rescue.

An emphasis on training

Yeamans
Ben Yeamans trains how to guide a litter up a cliff. Photo courtesy of Aaron Lovato.

New Mexico’s backcountry is known for its steep mountains and deep canyons and ravines, so it’s not uncommon for hikers to find themselves trapped or even injured in areas that are difficult to access for untrained first responders. The special skills of the Atalaya Search and Rescue team come into play when it comes to such rescues. 

“My team is on call 24/7,” says Ben. “We operate under the State Police and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.” 

Like other teams peppered throughout New Mexico, the members of Atalaya Search and Rescue have training in ground search, medical care and communication. The team also has specialized training in rope rescue, which requires attention to detail and close teamwork.

“For us, there’s a lot of training on technical rope systems,” Ben explains. “We train twice a month at a minimum, typically on weekends. About 90 percent of our time is spent on technical rope systems—learning how to use the ropes, pulleys and other rescue gear. It’s just not about the gear, though. What really takes a lot of training is to get to a level of proficiency where we can work seamlessly as a team in often stressful and dangerous rescue situations.”

The Atalaya team has collectively participated in hundreds of search and rescue missions in all types of environments, from mountains to forests to deserts. “We get missions all the time,” Ben says. “You’d be surprised how many rescues we are called to. Most are lost hikers or other such types of rescue. These types of rescues don’t always require our specialized rope rescue training, but we also train for search techniques, so we are able to respond to most missions. When we do get a call that requires our skills in rope operation, I am thankful for all my training, as I will rely on it during such a rescue.”

Making the time

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The Atalaya team trains with the New Mexico National Guard.

When it comes to search and rescue work, there is a broad spectrum of skills involved, from physical prowess and mental toughness to staying cool under pressure and working well with others. However, Ben says that the most valuable commodity when it comes to recruitment is time.

“Dedicating time to training and being available are the most difficult things when it comes to keeping members on these teams,” Ben notes. “If you show up and dedicate the time, we will find a place for you in search and rescue. All the other skills can be taught and refined with experience—it’s maintaining consistency in training and participating in rescue operations that makes for a seasoned rescuer.”

Benjamin Yeamans works for W88 Systems Engineering (W-4).


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.