We are all vulenerable to making the same mistakes. I study incidents like this in an attempt to understand what happened and to inform my own actions. All of the training in the world won't prevent every accident and experience is a hard teacher.
By RALPH VARTABEDIAN Los Angeles Times Read full article LOS ANGELES -- The Yosemite Falls Trail leads dramatically to the top of North America's highest waterfall. Park rangers and veteran hikers know it as strenuous and a potentially dangerous hike in the winter...
The 11 boys and four adults started at 8:30 a.m. Just one mile from the trail head, most of the troop were already exhausted and decided to turn back.
The scoutmaster pressed ahead with five boys, including Luis. Three hours later the troop was waist-deep in snow. The boys were cold and their feet soaked. Luis was tired, his seventh-grade hiking partner said later.
The group turned back, and soon spread out along the trail, leaving some boys on their own. They began taking dangerous shortcuts between switchbacks. After stepping off the trail, Luis lost his footing and slid out of control over an edge. He plunged 300 feet to his death.
The account of the accident comes from a park investigation, which took statements from the scoutmaster and the other boys.
In an examination of law enforcement reports, lawsuits and news accounts, the Los Angeles Times identified 32 Scouts and Scout leaders who have died in the last five years in various outdoor activities. Investigations by rangers and sheriffs have documented deaths resulting from heatstroke, falls, lightning, drowning, electrocution and burns, among other causes.
In many cases, adult leaders appear to have miscalculated the abilities of individual boys to handle the risks and difficulties of outdoor activities, and failed to follow Scout rules and recommendations on adult supervision, safety equipment and trip planning.
Andrea Lankford, who was a district ranger in Yosemite in the mid-1990s and has worked at national parks across the country, said many adult Scout leaders "are not that physically fit themselves. They are not that knowledgeable. They are complacent. They are naive about the hazards. They bite off more than they can chew. As rangers, we would be extremely concerned. I have seen it time and time again with a gamut of consequences."
Paul Moore, the Scouting executive for the Los Angeles Boy Scouts council, said he believed the fatality rate during organized activities for the 1 million boys in Scouting is below the national average for boys going about their daily lives. But Moore also acknowledged that parents have an expectation that the organization knows what it is doing, and that fatal accidents are unacceptable...
What concerns outdoor experts is the experience level of many of those volunteers. Local Scout leaders said the only requirement set by the national office for escorting a day hike, for example, is that volunteers take the youth protection program to prevent sexual abuse, and that they file proper tour permits, health forms and other documents.
"I wonder if these adults are qualified, if they are prepared," said Matt Sharper, the statewide search and rescue coordinator for the California Emergency Services Management Agency. "If you don't have the skills, you have a recipe for disaster. Your group is only as strong as your weakest member. You should never let the group separate. You should have a leader at the front and a leader at the back."
Mike Leum ... is the reserve chief for mountain rescue at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, where he preaches outdoor safety to Boy Scout troops. A search and rescue is conducted for lost Scouts at least once a year in the Angeles National Forest, Leum said. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department rescues lost Scouts two or three times each year, officials said...
"Just because you are in Scouting or are a Scout leader doesn't mean you know what you are doing," said Leum, a former Boy Scout. "If somebody calls themselves a leader, I hold them to a high standard."
While the Boy Scout training program is good, it is no substitute for years and decades of experience by adult leaders, said Dean Ross, deputy chief for emergency operations at the National Park Service.
"Training doesn't develop competency," Ross said. "I am not saying they are incompetent, but to reach a level of competency requires not only training but experience."
The experts quoted above raise some excellent questions; ones we should all ask ourselves. We do have excellent training resources and a strong record of safety but the last quote is particularly powerful. Training doesn't develop competency.
Guide to Safe Scouting The policies and guidelines have been established because of the real need to protect members from known hazards that have been identified through 100 years of experience. Limitations on certain activities should not be viewed as stumbling blocks; rather, policies and guidelines are best described as stepping-stones toward safe and enjoyable adventures.
Health and Safety Training Course Syllabus Experience has shown that the vast majority of serious injuries and fatalities reported to the National Health and Safety Service occurred in unit-related activities conducted off council properties. This course introduces the concept of the “sandwich principle” with emphasis on the importance of qualified supervision and discipline. The course also features the BSA booklet "Guide to Safe Scouting."