Monrovian Susan McCreary saves lives both indoors and out.
The mother of two has been a nurse at the City of Hope since 1985, and she is also a valued member of the all-volunteer Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
McCreary has loved the outdoors ever since she grew up in upstate New York. She liked to ride her horse and often went camping and canoeing in the Adirondack Mountains. She said that ever since her youngest son was 2-years-old, she let their father watch the kids so she could make 3 or 4 day long solo backpacking trips.
McCreary said that when she joined SMSR in 1993, she was quite anxious to make a good impression, in part because at the time, not many women had joined the team since it’s founding in 1951.
"At first I was constantly proving myself to them and probably trying to be this overachiever person," she said.
McCreary said that after about 250 search missions, she has become more relaxed and confident in her own abilities. The team has given her two nicknames—"the Suze," and also "the blunt instrument," because of her forthright manner of speaking.
"I say to the team, either you are an asset or a liability," she said. "I’m kind of like a den mother sometimes, too," she added.
SMSR currently has about 28 active members. All of them are required to complete months of intense training and EMT school to be part of the team.
As a nurse, McCreary has set splints, given subjects a head to toe medical assessment, and stabilized the subject’s C spine to prevent them from becoming paralyzed. SMSR members may also need to carry an injured hiker or animal on a litter after running on a trail for miles while carrying their 33 lb. call-out packs, which contain rope, pulleys, rappelling devices, and other wilderness gear.
Being a part of SMSR is a big commitment, but there are some compensations.
"I’ve been to some really amazing parts of the world because of this team," she said. McCreary has seen from a helicopter while flying in for a rescue mission.
"Even senators don’t get that," she said.
She added, "And to find someone, to call out their name and hear them say, ‘Here I am?’ Holy smokes! Is that the coolest thing or what? I’ve had that happen and to think of it gives me the chills."
McCreary also helps organize SMSR activities, such as a banquet on Saturday, October 15th which will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the team’s founding. Retired SMSR members have also been invited to attend a morning session to explore new mapping technology. SMSR is involved with Esri, a company that produces Geographic Information System software, and McCreary says the newest search maps are "really phenomenal."
"We’ve invited the old-timers to come over for coffee and muffins and look at the new technology," she said. "There are some stories that have been passed down, and we’ll get to meet the people who were part of the legendary operations."
SMSR will wrap up the 60th anniversary celebration on Sunday, the 16th of October, by hosting a for the public from 1 to 5 p.m. at the SMSR station. Highlights will include the "Hug A Tree" video about hiking safety for kids, a technical demonstration of the use of ropes and pulleys, a medical demonstration, an opportunity to meet search dogs, important tips for adult hikers, a gallery of historic pictures of the rescue team, and barbecued hot dogs and drinks.
"I’m honored to volunteer with this group of people. They all bring something extra to the table," McCreary said.
McCreary has also traveled with SMSR members to places such as Denali National Park, Mt. Rainer, and Zion National Park. On a recent trip to Zion, she was even stalked by a bold mountain lion, she said.
She’s planning to take another trip with SMSR members in the upcoming weeks. In order to traverse Zion’s Heaps Canyon in 2 days, they will need to complete 40 rappels, wear 10-mm wet suits, and toss a pack from one pool to another. The last rappel will be a 300-foot hanging rappel.
"It’s going to be so fun," McCreary said. "I can’t wait."