Updated: Dec 25, 2021
by Katie Wallace
Anatomy of a rescue
“Know Before You Go!” is a brand-new monthly series in the Southern Utah News. Future topics will include: who gets lost (and how), emergency devices, essential survival items, beating the heat and more. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to my first monthly installment focused on Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR). Each month, I’ll try to give you some tips on how to stay safe, without the need to be rescued by the Kane County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team. This month, I will give a broad overview of who we are and what a rescue looks like.
First, someone gets themself into trouble. Though we see everything in this county from ATV accidents to canyoneering mishaps, our most common incidents are heat exhaustion and parties who get lost while returning from an off-trail destination.
They then find some way to get a hold of us, either by cell phone, an emergency satellite device, by sending someone from their party out to report it or by having an emergency contact who knows when they’ve been gone too long.
Dispatch and our Sheriff’s Deputies will assess what is needed, based on the information at their disposal. This is sometimes lots of information (in the case of the party reporting its own situation), and is sometimes very little information (often in the case of someone overdue).
We are lucky in this county to have many resources at our disposal. The Kane County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (SAR) team has 40+ members, all volunteers, with specialty teams who put in over 500 training hours per year, including tracking, technical rope rescue, search dogs and swiftwater. This is typically what people think of when they think of rescue in our county.
However, it should be noted that the Sheriff’s deputies and Bureau of Land Management rangers are often the first ones on scene and, many times, they are able to resolve a rescue without further incident. Other valuable resources we call upon are our local Fire and EMS brigades and helicopters from Classic Aviation in Page, the state of Utah and even the military.
While the hasty team is dispatched, the SAR team and other resources are usually put on standby so they can gather their gear, close out their work, let their loved ones know they won’t be home for dinner, etc.
It’s worth mentioning that response times can be LONG! Our county is giant. If we get a call out in, say, Reflection Canyon, we’re looking at a four-hour drive to get to the end of Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Occasionally, a helicopter can assist in transporting members, but that is typically the exception, not the rule. Then, of course, there is a hike or rappel or ATV ride to get to the patient after that.
Thus, it is not uncommon for an individual or group to either be assisted by other visitors or the hasty team, or to self-rescue in the time it takes us to respond. We sometimes joke on the team that we’re really just on the SAR team to go for long drives (and then turn around and come back, having never seen a patient).
In the instances where we are able to provide assistance, we do so. In many cases, this is help extracting them – lifting them out of a canyon, carrying them on a litter to a trailhead or helicopter landing zone, helping a lost person find their way back, and sometimes, sadly, helping package their body for recovery.
When it’s all done, we clean up, debrief the process, think about training needs and process improvements for next time, and take personal time to refresh our minds and bodies as best we can until the next one. This sometimes takes the form of pizza and gallows humor; at other times, an incident calls for a critical stress debriefing and follow-ups for dealing with the effects of PTSD.
First responders can’t do what they do without their families and friend networks. We miss holidays and dinners and first dates and hiking plans with some frequency, and it is the grace of our loved ones that buoys us.