​White Helmets: Inside look at Syria's first responders

INSIDE SYRIA -- Syria has incurred a devastating toll from its bloody civil war. Now in its fifth year, more than 215,000 have been killed; nearly 4 million have fled; and the United Nations says the life expectancy has dropped 20 years from 76 to 56. Yet in the face of this unrelenting brutality, heroes have emerged.

When the bombs rain down on Syria, it is the White Helmets who run in to help. These brave volunteers claw and saw their way through the rubble to save those buried beneath. One video shows them pulling a 2-week-old baby alive after it had spent 16 hours trapped under a flattened house.

At a training session in a neighboring country, the volunteers learned how to break through concrete and put out fires.

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The White Helmets train on how to break concrete
CBS News

Ala'a, a 26-year-old from Aleppo, is one of more than 2,000 Syrians who have joined the group. He says he feels very proud to be helping.

"Everyone loves us in Syria," he said. "We deal with all the different groups."

It is dangerous work. The regime has dropped roughly 1,000 bombs on Aleppo in the last year alone -- most of them crudely made barrel bombs packed with explosives and shrapnel. Often planes circle back a short time later to drop a second bomb, targeting rescue workers.

Ala'a told us his friend was killed this way.

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Ala'a, a 26-year-old from Aleppo who volunteers with the White Helmets
CBS News

"He was just 200 yards ahead of us and then suddenly a second barrel bomb landed on his car," said Ala'a. "I felt desperate. World leaders are watching the Syrian people dying and they do nothing."

But the White Helmets are undeterred. Even in the most hopeless of situations, lives can be saved.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News