The warm Wyoming sun glared over the Lovell Municipal Pool. Kids ran back and forth to the chorus of lifeguard whistles and splashes. One of those whistles belonged to 15-year-old Amber Savage.
It had been a quiet day for Savage — no incidents, no false alarms. She stood quietly watching the high dive.
A 9-year-old boy stood at the top, his friends close behind him. Then, as he turned to talk to a friend, the boy fell backwards off the 10-foot-high plank and slammed onto the surrounding tile.
Savage instantly ran to the boy. His eyes had rolled back, his small body shook and cerebrospinal fluid began flowing out of his ears. The boy had broken his clavicle and received a basilar skull fracture. This was far beyond the scope of her simple training as a summer lifeguard. Savage looked on helplessly. She was ready to respond, but couldn’t. She didn’t know how.
“I hated that feeling,” Savage said. “I hated feeling that this kid could die in my arms right now, and I can’t do anything about it.”
The boy survived and Savage said that summer day was a defining moment in her life.
“I kept myself composed in that moment, but that night I lost it. I was just bawling,” Savage said. “I thought, ‘How could I let myself just not know how to take care of somebody?’”
Savage is now a licensed EMT and has worked as an EMT class instructor and a volunteer firefighter in Laramie, Wyoming. She has helped organize and served in several humanitarian efforts, including in South Africa and the Philippines.
Spencer Pollock, the executive director for the American Red Cross over the Wyoming area, worked with Savage. Pollock said he watched Savage take over the area’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group. Within a year, Savage made it the national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group of the year. Savage then started the Mountain West Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group.
“I’ve seen her in her roles as a volunteer firefighter, EMT, disaster worker and with the Red Cross, and one of the things she does really well is help develop the next generation of folks, whether that’s volunteers or paid staff members,” Pollock said.
Pollock later convinced Savage to work for the Red Cross.
“She’s got a lot of initiative, works hard and has a self-starter attitude,” Pollock said.
She currently serves as the executive director over the Utah area for the American Red Cross.
Savage said her parents taught her to do her best no matter what, leaving her with stong drive.
“Amber has become one of the most driven people I know,” said BYU defensive lineman and Savage’s younger brother, Cody. “The top two words I would use to describe her would be ‘grit’ and ‘determination.’”
Pollock said Savage personifies what Tom Peters said of leaders: “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.”
Savage said success is not about her personal accomplishments, but about helping others.
“I think a big chunk of my purpose is to help take other people’s pain away,” Savage said.
Savage said she wants other millennials to know they don’t have to wait to begin making a difference.
“I think we wait for a lot of that validation to come externally. You’re waiting for the top graduate awards from your program or waiting for someone to tell you that you did a really good job,” Savage said. “We’re so dependent on feedback, and I think that sometimes the most powerful feedback we can give is the feedback we give ourselves.”
Savage said her service is about others, not herself.
“This isn’t a pride thing,” Savage said. “There is a healthy dose of kick-trash attitude that’s just like, ‘Bring it on.’ Accept the confidence. Don’t sell yourself short.”