Search and rescue volunteers face some of the harshest terrain to help those lost in the wilderness
Juab County Search and Rescue is a team of approximately 20 active members who volunteer their time, energy, and in many cases their sleep to help others. I had the privilege of sitting down with three volunteers on the search and rescue team: Todd Lewis (Commander), Heber Allred (Lieutenant) and Terry Allred (Secretary).
It was immediately apparent that all three have a lot of passion for the job. They explained that peril doesn’t stick to a schedule, so search and rescue team members never know when they might receive a call that requires an immediate response.
“A lot of our calls come out in the evening when people haven’t returned from hunting, or when they wake up in the morning and realize someone’s run away. So we get a lot of early morning and late-night calls, and some calls right in the middle of the afternoon.” Lewis said.
That means volunteers always have to be ready to get up and get going, no matter how late or early the call for help might come through.
Of course, it’s not possible for every member of the team to drop everything each time a call goes out. Volunteers also have full-time jobs, families and other responsibilities that take up their time. So each member only responds to a call when able. Fortunately, most rescues don’t require a lot of people. The exception is any rescue that involves rope rescue operations. These are more dangerous and require a minimum number of people to perform.
One such rescue happened in mid-October in Devil’s Kitchen in Payson Canyon. The Juab County Search and Rescue was called to respond to a hiker who got stuck in the canyon and needed to be pulled out. Terry Allred explained that what started out as a single-person rescue quickly turned into a three-person rescue because two of the volunteers who tried to get the stranded hiker out ended up stranded themselves and also needed to be rescued. Lewis explained that’s why it’s so important to have multiple volunteers on each rescue mission, because you never know what situations you’ll encounter.
Each member of the Juab Search and Rescue is a volunteer. When asked if there is any type of monetary compensation, Lewis chuckled, ‘Nobody gets a nickel.” This begs the question, what keeps these brave people motivated to respond to each late-night or early-morning call?
What persuades them to leave their families and friends to embark on potentially dangerous searches that may involve huge risks? That’s exactly what I asked Lewis, Terry Allred and Heber Allred. All three men had similar reasons for giving up their time and physical comforts to brave the elements and rescue others.
Lewis, Terry Allred and Heber Allred all have older brothers who have served or are currently serving on search and rescue teams and inspired them to join. But the motivation to serve runs deeper than that.
“The most rewarding part of the job is when you successfully find the individuals and help them out. We have a handful of people that are suicide attempts that we can find and help. It’s even a lot of fun, too, when you’re looking for people that don’t want to be found, whether it’s juvenile delinquents running away from camp or someone who’s called 911 and then gets dodgy and decides to ditch. Those ones are especially fun to find,” Lewis said.
Terry Allred has similar reasons for serving on the team and stated, “when you pull someone off a cliff to safety, they don’t know how to cope with it and it’s touching to help somebody that way.”
They all agreed that search and rescue is fun. There are opportunities to ride sandrails and use equipment from the sheriff’s office to go out and find missing people. The excitement of the job is also a huge draw for people who like the challenge of locating and rescuing others.
Of course, not all rescue situations turn out as planned. But even when the team ends up locating a body instead of a live person, there is both sadness and satisfaction. The sadness comes from being unable to help the deceased person, but satisfaction comes from being able to provide the families with closure so they no longer have to wonder what happened to their loved ones.
This year, Lewis explained Juab County Search and Rescue has already had around double the number of calls they had at the same time last year.
He recommends that people who want to go hiking make sure they’re well-prepared with extra food, water and clothing that’s appropriate for current weather conditions. He also said it’s a good idea to have some way to start a fire and keep yourself warm if necessary.
He also advised that when people are able to get a cell phone signal and call 911, most of the time the 911 dispatching system can get a GPS location from their cell phone. That’s why it’s important to stay put. The dispatchers can then relate the lost hiker’s approximate GPS location to search and rescue so they can find them more easily.
The best course of action is to plan any hikes ahead of time and try not to get caught out in the elements unprepared. Although search and rescue volunteers are good at what they do, you never want to put yourself in a situation where you have to call them to come save you.
For those who would like to become part of the Juab County Search and Rescue team, the process is straightforward but doesn’t happen overnight.
An application can be filled out with the sheriff’s office, after which the applicant will do a six-month ride-along to see how interested and dedicated he or she is to being on the team. After the six months are up, the existing search and rescue members vote to decide whether or not to accept the new applicant to the team.
The application process for some of the larger Utah SAR teams (including Utah County and Salt Lake County) are more challenging. Terry Allred explained that there is usually a waiting list for these teams. There are also certain standards that have to be met before people can even apply.
For example, in order to volunteer for the Salt Lake team, you have to be certified in mountain rescue. That’s because there are so many high-angle rescues in the area.
Juab County’s high-angle rescue team receives all of their basic mountain rescue training and certifications from Salt Lake and other areas.
For those who can’t or don’t want to become volunteers on a search and rescue team but want to help in other ways, donations are always welcome and appreciated. Make checks out to Juab County Search and Rescue, then mail them to the Juab County Sheriff’s Office 425 Sheep Lane in Nephi.
These donations will go directly to Juab County Search and Rescue.
To make a donation to the Utah Search and Rescue Reimbursement Program, go to (https://secure.utah.gov/rescue/terms/donate.html). Donations to this site are used to reimburse county SAR teams for critical training, equipment and other eligible expenditures associated with their searches and rescues. (Peterson is a Serve Daily Contributor).