On March 25, 2008 we were priviledged to have Brett Anderson for the Star Valley Search and Rescue speak to us. You can hear his presentation by clicking here (NOTE: this is a 7.5Mb WAV audio file). The Search and rescue unit is a County organization under the Sheriff. We are responsible for anyone lost or injured in the outer rural areas surrounding the towns. It was mentioned that they had to come search for Lloyd Baker, one of our finest Rotary Members, a couple times!
Many of the searches are just from worried family members and concerned citizens, but better that than a truly missing and injured person. Certain times of the year are worse than others. In the summer time there are boating and hunting accidents, caught on a rock or a broken leg. These are easier. In the winter time, you have to add the avalanche factor. The Sheriff and County Coroner show up and plan and brief/de-brief the searchers and avoid second-guessing.
Brett joined the team when he and a friend were driving down a road one day ad came upon an older couple that had been forced off the road by a cement truck. They were the only ones that stopped and he didn't like the feeling of not knowing what to do. This made him want to learn more and serve the area. Coupled with his love of snowmobiles and boating, and that dangerous situations didn't frighten him, it seemed like a good mix to become a team member. He mentions that there is a great trust among the team members. They are an extended, close-knit family. You might be dangling from a rope to rescue someone and have to trust the person holding you.
There is also a great amount of teamwork in rescuing someone. One Rotary member mentioned a rescue situation where they used a "V"-style system to walk out into the current and get a guy out of a plane in the Snake River. Each rescuer had to be connected to the person beside him to not get carried away. They called this "swift-water training". Mr. Anderson had been incident Commander on that rescue.
Some questions arose about the Good Samaritan laws. Mr. Anderson says it is all a matter of training and certification. The S&R teams from multiple counties get together for training. Also, funding is an issue. More funds are needed each year to continue training and to replace gear. They have recently sent out pamphlets and flyers for fund-raising. These worked well. They used to do the Ted Linford Rodeo as a fund-raiser, but that won't be happening anymore. Possibly they will be doing the "Ranch Rodeo" which is local ranchers doing fun stunt-like events. The S&R will also be offering food.
Does the S&R get anything from the $1 from the snowmobile permit tags? Well, this money goes to the State, and then filters down to the counties as needed. The state gives funds with respect to the number of searches performed during the year, and to all counties. Better to give directly.
Some questions were asked about avalanches. Isn't it easy to just dig someone out of a pile of snow? No, when an avalanche happens, it is a wall of very solid snow and ice, not unlike cement. It hits hard and is very heavy. When it comes down on you, it may crush you and compress around you such that you have no air to breathe. About 2 minutes of air until you pass out, then maybe 2 more minutes if you are unconscious. You also have to be careful about breathing out, which melts the snow and forms a hard mask over your face.
Powdery snow is better. You may be able to last 20 minutes or more in loose powdery snow. Some snomobilers have been carrying beacons to make them easier to find, and "Ava-Lungs" which is a backpack of air with a hose, in case you are under snow. It expels air out the back. But they are pretty expensive - $300 for a beacon, around $400 or more for a lung. There are also vests that inflate, but you have to remember to pull the cord - they aren't automatic!
Being under the Sheriff's department, they do have a County budget, but it isn't enough to keep them going. They have a 40-man roster - all volunteers. This number is controlled by area served. The Star Valley S&R serves the "Northern Lincoln County" area from the South End up to the State line above Alpine, and they even overflow into the area of the Snake River Canyon, which is mostly served by the Jackson S&R. Some funds are donated by the Forest Service and a foundation in Jackson.
Since this is an all-volunteer group, how much personal time as invested in this? Public meetings are every second and fourth Wednesday of the month, in the S&R building beside the Valley Auto Supply/CarQuest building, 7:00pm. All are welcome. There are two training sessions per month, and fund raising meetings. But when the pager goes off at 2:00am, you have to go. Hopefully your family, customers, and others are all considerate about missing appointments.
You can get in touch with the Star Valley Search and Rescue by calling 307-886-9026.