Search and Rescue


Tad is a nice guy. And if you’re lucky, he’ll never have to come looking for you.

Tad Jessop once missed his own surprise birthday party because he never showed up at a friend’s house as promised.

He once walked out of his high school semester finals to go looking for someone.

He admits that he would cancel a prom date at the very last minute if he got a phone call from the right person.

Does this sound like someone you would depend on? Consider this:

The nine-year-old boy wandered, lost and stumbling in the dark. Around him in the freezing night, the trees and mountains made black shapes against the dark sky. Then the boy heard the voices—real voices, calling his name. Frightened, he kept silent.

Nearby, Tad Jessop led his rescue team in the search pattern they had practiced so often. Tad had been called out of a Sunday evening fireside by one of his officers in the Arapaho Rescue Patrol. Now, he and his team moved through the rough terrain in an organized search, guided by their flashlights and by each other’s voices.

As the search dragged on into the next morning, fatigue and cold began to numb the team members. Still, no young voice answered their shouts. Not until several hours later did the radio crackle with the news that the lost boy had found a road, where he was spotted by a ranger. While Tad and his team wearily made their way back, the boy was joyfully reunited with his parents, then taken to the hospital for a checkup.

Tad Jessop, 18, has been a volunteer with the Arapaho Rescue Patrol in Littleton, Colorado, for nearly two and a half years now. He’s gone on dozens of search-and-rescue missions, and he says this one is fairly typical. More often than not, his team of ten will spend hours or even days hiking until their legs ache, calling out until their voices are hoarse. And someone else gets the warm feeling of reuniting child with parents. Someone else hears the grateful thanks of the injured hiker.

“Most of the time you won’t be on the ‘find’ team,” he says. After all, there are usually many teams on the job, searching various assigned areas. “Most of the jobs will be where you say ‘now we know where the victim isn’t.’ It may seem like a boring job, but it’s gotta be done.”

So, if there is little chance of getting a warm fuzzy feeling from actually finding the lost child or the injured hiker, what keeps Tad and his team going? “It’s the thought of the victim,” he answers. “You can’t sleep if they’re out there.” It doesn’t matter if another team gets the thrill of finding the victim. “Just knowing that they’re found is a really great feeling.”

Not all of the victims are lost children, of course. There are teens and adults. Some get in trouble while rock climbing. Some get lost or injured while hiking. And some get in trouble because of carelessness, or because they make foolish choices. No matter. Tad and others like him still drop everything to come to the rescue. That’s why he wears a pager wherever he goes. And that’s why he missed his birthday party, and why he had to go back to make up his semester finals. And that’s why he’d miss the prom if he had to. (“It’s happened to other guys.”)

Tad and the other high-school-age members of the Arapaho Rescue Patrol spend long hours of training in emergency medical care, search patterns, survival, cliff rescues—you name it. This is a serious organization under the direction of qualified adult officers and operating under the authority of the county sheriff.

As leader, Tad must constantly be aware of his team’s mental and physical condition. “My first responsibility is to my team—to keep them safe. You can’t afford to have more than one victim.” A team that’s weak from exhaustion or hunger can make serious mistakes despite training. It’s a duty Tad takes seriously.

Something as exciting and important as this can become the center of your life, if you let it. But Tad’s patriarchal blessing mentions the need to have spiritual balance in his life, and he works at making sure his patrol activities don’t take precedence when they shouldn’t. “It’s a good thing we’re doing here,” he observes, “but it’s not more important than the gospel.”

Has he had conflicts? “Many. Things like Sunday training sessions. Some I go to because they are just twice a year, and I need to be there. And missions—when someone is out there lost, you just go. But with small training sessions, where it’s not all that important to be there, church comes first.”

As Tad discusses the spiritual side of his life, he sees several parallels with his search-and-rescue activities.

There’s the search-and-rescue concept itself. Tad has served on his stake youth activity committee and on the seminary council, and he knows the importance of seeking those who are lost. In fact, he says, “Our theme for one youth conference was ‘Search and Rescue’—it wasn’t my idea; I have to give credit to another committee member.”

Also, both kinds of search and rescue require more than just a desire to help others. To be effective, you need training and preparation.

For Tad, the spiritual equivalent of that training includes things like daily prayer, seminary and church attendance, and daily scripture study.

His own regular study includes the Book of Mormon and Jesus the Christ. You know when you talk to him that his commitment to scripture study is deep and personal, that he really gets something out of it.

And Tad doesn’t say so, but you could even find a spiritual equivalent for that pager he wears. It’s called being in tune with the Spirit.

For Tad Jessop, it’s pretty routine now to get called out any time of the day or night. Often the work is boring, like watching a mountain road in case a lost hiker appears. Sometimes the outcome of a search is tragic. Almost always the work is hard. What never becomes routine is the feeling of responsibility for his team and for the people they are trying to help.

So, Tad might miss a birthday party or duck out of school once in a while, but he is exactly the kind of guy you can depend on. He’s prepared and he cares. What more could you want? And when he gets called on that other mission he’s been preparing for—the one that lasts two years—you know he’s going to give it the same kind of effort. And that’s a good thing. There are a lot of people wandering around lost out there.

[photos] Photography by Larry A. Hiller

[photos] Tad and his team spend long hours training in things like search patterns, survival, and cliff rescues. The goal is to save other lives without endangering their own.

[photo] His most basic training manual is the scriptures. He reads them daily—and deeply.