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SAR sets rare winter training

Klickitat County Search and Rescue (SAR) is gearing up for an extra recruiting and training cycle this winter and is looking for a few good men and women.

The group works as an extension of the Klickitat County Sheriff’s office and responds to around 25 calls for aid per year on average. Sometimes the calls are simply for help locating a hiker who has gotten turned around in the woods. Other times, lives hang dramatically on the brink, and survival depends completely on the training and bravery of those who volunteer their time with the rescue outfit.

Regardless of whether you are a mountain climber, a computer whiz, an amateur radio operator, or just like the idea of helping those in peril, Jeff King says SAR could be for you.

King has been the SAR Coordinator since 2007 and says that their current volunteer roster could stand to have its ranks beefed up. A group of trainees is usually put through the certification courses every other year; nine men and women graduated from the course just this last April.

Numbers are still low enough that King has decided to run a special class through this winter, even though one normally wouldn’t be scheduled until 2014.

The Klickitat County SAR hosted a massive statewide SAR conference in 2012, and planning for that event took over a year.

“Normally much more energy would have been available to focus on a membership drive for the 2012 recruiting season,” said King, “but the conference absorbed a lot of time and effort and our numbers just haven’t recovered.”

The rescue force is made up of volunteers, and given that most of them have jobs and families, only a small percentage of the overall pool of members can be expected to be available for any given call.

According to King, even the more simple missions require at least a dozen or so people. When that many aren’t available, outside help from surrounding agencies must be called for, which can lead to valuable time being lost in a rescue situation.

It is a common misconception that SAR people need to all be buckskin-clad Daniel Boone types. Just as much help is needed in the support and logistics sections of the group, and a purpose can be found for just about anyone willing to be trained.

The certification course involves 65 hours of training, which covers the basics: search techniques, map reading and land navigation, GPS location, survival, and many other aspects, such as what kind of behavior to expect from a person that is lost in the wilderness.

Once the basic course is complete, advanced training is available for everything from radio communications to rappelling and whitewater rescue. There are three main levels that potential rescuers can aspire to: “Basic Support,” which involves setting up command posts, radio use, digital mapping and a host of other supportive roles. “Limited Field” is the next group. Members of this level are able bodied and capable enough to work on foot away from the command center, but mostly stick to easily navigated roads and trails. Those who are “Field” rated are the hardiest and most heavily-trained members and are expected to be able to roam the wilderness and survive unaided while caring for any victims for periods of up to 48 hours, if conditions prevent a speedy rescue.

King, who is also a sheriff’s deputy, has worked with KCSR since 2001, but his family roots with the organization go back to his grandfather’s days with horse-mounted posse of long ago. Posse are most often thought of as something out of the plot of old Western movies, forming outside a saloon to track down horse-thieves and the like, but in reality they could be called upon to aid law-enforcement officers with any task and were still commonplace prior to World War II.

After the 20th century dawned, people found themselves in need of rescue far more often than gunslingers found themselves in need of incarceration, and slowly but surely the group of civilians called to arms began to evolve in their methods and purpose. Eventually wilderness riding cowboys on horseback gave way to the Sheriff’s Air Patrol in Cessna airplanes. Many factors such as advances in land navigation technology eventually led the Air Patrol into obscurity, though aircraft can still sometimes be a crucial tool in a search situation. And so went the unforeseeable evolution of SAR, from hoof to wing to foot.

One of the group’s biggest operations over the summer was answering the sheriff’s department’s request to aid in evacuation notices for those in the path of the Mile Marker 28 fire. KCSR members notified a total of 902 different residences that they had been placed of some level of evacuation warning.

Over a seven day period during the fire, the SAR volunteers logged nearly 700 man-hours and drove over 1,500 miles in the course of performing their duties. Eight members were chosen to be honored for going “above and beyond the call” of their duties: Al Barriger, Pete Tol, Jane Lee, Mike Leach, Jeremy Kearns, Seth Scarola, Velma Van Aelst, and King.

The new training session is set to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 28, but King urges anyone interested to start attending the monthly meetings now, which are held on the second Tuesday of each month.

Those interested are asked to call King at 773-4455 or visit the KCSR website to download and application at


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