The September 1911 issue of Boys’ Life (now Scout Life) magazine featured an exciting bit of news:
Through the incentive of the Boy Scout activities, many lads throughout the country have saved the lives of their comrades or of strangers.
The Boy Scouts of America had only been in existence for a year. Units across the country were just getting up and running as the Scouting movement spread. And yet, kids were already using the skills they learned in Scouts to save lives.
On a lake in Minnesota, a young man saved the lives of two younger boys who were struggling to stay afloat after falling out of a boat.
On the Mississippi River, two Scouts saved the lives of two boys who were caught in a section of fast-moving water.
And in a truly remarkable story that sounds like it could be straight out of an action movie, one boy fell off a ledge when the ground gave way below him. Thankfully, a Scout grabbed him by the wrist, and as the boy’s momentum threatened to pull them both over the edge, the Scout was able to grab a tree and pull himself and the falling boy to safety.
All of these incidents were reported to the National Council’s Court of Honor, which would eventually review the materials and officially approve the presentation of an official BSA lifesaving award.
Since then, the name of the award has changed, but the process of nominating a Scout or adult is basically the same.
Submit the nomination form to your local council
The BSA’s lifesaving and meritorious action awards program is designed to recognize youth and adults who have performed an attempt to save a life, or to recognize notable acts of service that put into practice Scouting skills or ideals. (Individuals who perform a lifesaving act in the line of duty — such as an EMT, lifeguard or doctor — are not eligible.)
Nominations are made to your local council by filling out this form. Please include as many details about the incident as you can – including statements from witnesses, if available — so the council’s meritorious action awards committee can properly decide which of the BSA’s awards is appropriate.
Councils can award a Medal of Merit or Certificate of Merit. The Certificate of Merit goes to a youth or adult who has performed a significant act of service that deserves special recognition. A Medal of Merit may be awarded to a youth or adult who has performed an act of service that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others.
However, if the meritorious action awards committee and the council’s executive board feel that the nominee should be considered for a National Council award, they can submit it for consideration.
The nominee may be considered for a national award
There are three lifesaving awards that can only be approved by the National Council’s Court of Honor:
- The Heroism Award may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at more than minimal personal risk to self.
- The Honor Medal may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at considerable risk to self.
- The Honor Medal with Crossed Palms may be awarded in exceptional cases to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self.
The Court of Honor makes the final determination and sends the award and certificate back to the local council for appropriate presentation.
What about Scouts in Action?
The lifesaving award nomination form includes a release agreement that gives Scout Life permission to consider the story for Scouts in Action or More Scouts in Action. If the nominee is awarded an official BSA lifesaving award, no further action is required. Every winner is automatically considered for publication.
Not every winner will be chosen. Subjects are selected from a lengthy list of award winners, and often we must leave out worthy candidates simply because we don’t have room for all of them.
Sometimes an award winner will ask not to be considered for Scouts in Action because the event may still be traumatizing to them. This is totally understandable.
But the much more common reason Scouts have for not wanting to be included is that they don’t feel like heroes.
“I don’t feel like I did anything all that special,” one Scout told us years ago, just a few months after single-handedly dragging a nearly unconscious grown man out of a ferocious rip current.
But the purpose of the BSA’s lifesaving awards program — and Scouts in Action, for that matter — isn’t only to recognize the heroic Scout. It also helps inspire other Scouts who see their peers being recognized in such a way, and helps them to know that they, too, are capable of acting heroically should the situation call for it.
Click here to learn about the BSA’s lifesaving and meritorious awards program.