Everyday heroes: Dr. Péter Jackovics, Commander of the Hunor Search and Rescue Team

The second episode of The Bold Truth About Hungary podcast features the commander of the Hunor rescue team, the brave heroes who saved 17 lives in earthquake-torn Turkey.

Soon after kicking off the second season of The Bold Truth About Hungary with Századvég’s Chief Senior Analyst Lóránt Sümeghi, the second episode features Dr. Péter Jackovics, commander of the Hunor Search and Rescue Team.

The team just recently came home from their mission in Turkey, where they played a crucial role in the rescue efforts following the devastating earthquake in the country that resulted in a massive number of casualties.

Our intent was to focus on the human element of the search and rescue profession and to paint a picture for the wider public of the physical and emotional toll it takes on these brave professionals to tackle and carry out such a complex mission.

Dr. Jackovics leads a heavy-duty search and rescue (SAR) team that works under the Disaster Management Unit of the Hungarian Interior Ministry.

Hunor is among 67 special SAR teams around the globe that are accredited by the United Nations and can be deployed to any crisis-hit zone in the world within a mere 24 hours.

According to Commander Jackovics, his team features professionals from several fields of expertise, including firefighters, medical personnel, and service dogs alongside their handlers.

Dr. Jackovics himself has been working in the field for 20 years. He started his career as a firefighter, “climbed the ladder,” and currently oversees the bureaucratic and organizational management of the Hunor team.

Within three hours of the news of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the Hunor team’s 88 serving personnel were assembled. Those who were selected to participate were on their way to the disaster-struck region within 6 hours.

While the whole process is highly standardized and by the book, this swift reaction time was a key element, as he put it: “You have to be there in the golden hour.” Thanks to their quick response, the team could start working in the area 21 hours after the alert was sent out, and they were able to save 17 people within the narrow timespan of their mission in Turkey.

The commander emphasized that this is an unbelievably difficult job. It is both physically and mentally drudging work that never stops for the maximum 10-day duration of a given deployment.

During deployment, SAR professionals work day and night, 24/7, in gravely dangerous conditions, from working their way under the debris of collapsed structures, using service dogs to validate life signs, to operating heavy machinery and providing emotional and medical assistance to the affected population.

Commander Jackovics recalls the story of a grueling 16-hour fight to save the life of a victim trapped under the rubble, adding that “we couldn't say that we are sorry we can't or are not able to do it”.

They do what they must do, whatever it takes with whatever they have.

This requires support and logistics from the hosting nation of course, and this is where Dr. Jackovics comes into the picture, as his role as a commander “was to find the logistics, food, drinking water, good accommodation, safety, as well as talking with the police, talking with the local military, and also the governor.”

Due to the terrible toll this line of work entails, the team is constantly trained and evaluated psychologically and is provided with professional support both on the field and at home.

Dr. Jackovics emphasized the importance of discussing what happens in the field every day in order to provide emotional closure for these brave professionals, adding that for each deployment “we put our problems in a black box (...) and just focus on the mission.” He added that once they are back home, they discuss how these problems can be solved.

Of course, despite all the hardships this work entails, Commander Jackovics said that support from both the Turkish and the Hungarian people helps “maintains a good mentality for my young colleagues.”

I believe those on the ground in Turkey will never forget this effort. Together, the international teams saved 200 victims in a valiant fight against the odds, risking their lives, as well as mental and physical health, for the noblest of causes: to help and save our fellow humans in need. And for this I am grateful.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the rescue efforts, and thank you, members of the Hunor team, for your bravery.

You are indeed our heroes.