Resident named state Volunteer of the Year
Scott Gabler’s tips for staying safe in the backcountry
• Be self aware in planning a trip. Choose distances, elevation gains and terrain appropriate for your fitness and skill level.
• Tell someone responsible where you are going and when you expect to be back.
• Maintain situational awareness — How tired am I? Are those thunderclouds?
• Go prepared, not just for what you expect to happen, but for what might happen. Always take a light source, an extra quart of water, a Tahoe Bar or two, warm, water resistant clothing, and a navigation aide every time you day hike in the backcountry.
• Finally, although it pains me to say it, take your well-charged cell phone. Although this is not an excuse for ignoring the other tips, the basin does have relatively good coverage in some areas of the backcountry and if you or someone else on the trail has a medical emergency, there is no faster way to request assistance.
Scott Gabler is a true hero, at least according to his brother.
After Gabler won California’s Volunteer of the Year award as a member of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, there was evidence to corroborate that statement.
The state award honors an outstanding Californian whose volunteer service is exemplary and inspirational, according to the California Volunteers website.
For David Gabler, who nominated the South Lake Tahoe resident, Scott is a shining example of the impact one volunteer can have on a community.
“You’ve been a true hero, from your willingness to risk everything for a stranger to your trademark humility after a job well done,” David Gabler said in a video presentation shot in Afghanistan where he’s serving in the military.
“This year you’ve given life back to almost a dozen people who thought they’d lost it … The people of Lake Tahoe are very fortunate to have you standing watch for them.”
Scott Gabler has responded to more than 80 search-and-rescue calls and saved 11 lives with the El Dorado County search and rescue team. He developed the first mountaineering search and rescue team for South Lake Tahoe and has volunteered more than 2,500 hours to create, train and supervise the team.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune caught up with Gabler to ask about his most memorable rescues, his history with the organization and future plans.
Tahoe Daily Tribune: How did you first get involved with El Dorado County SAR?
Scott Gabler: When I moved to Tahoe three years ago, I wanted to get involved in the community to meet new people, make new friends and put my skills and passion for technical rescue to good use.
Is there a particularly memorable or difficult SAR you’ve responded to?
This winter my mountaineering team and I responded to the urgent call for help from a man who had fallen about 400 feet down the steep and icy south bowl of Tallac.
The man, in town for a business retreat, was badly injured, having cartwheeled down terrain and plowed down small trees at freeway speeds.
This was one of many calls that my new mountaineering program was training specifically for. His survival was going to require rapid access and advanced technical evacuation skills.
Our team was inserted two at a time from a CHP helicopter high onto Tallac. With no areas flat enough to land, the aircraft would touch down the front of the skids under power for our hot unload. With crampons on and ice axes in hand we exited the aircraft directly onto the ice as the helicopter slid slowly downhill before lifting back into the sky to get the next two team members.
When we reached the man, he was suffering from major trauma to his legs, severe blood loss and hypothermia.
The words he could initially speak were simply, “Thank you.”
… We later learned he had lost more than half his blood volume and suffered 18 breaks between the knee and the ankle in one leg alone, among other significant injuries. After two surgeries, the man took the first steps on his road to recovery three days later.
All our training paid off. The technical skills of our search and rescue volunteers paired with the specialized skills of three other agencies worked seamlessly to resolve an incredibly difficult mission safely and rapidly, transforming the tragedy of losing one of our visitors into the success story of another saved life.
What does it mean to you to be named California Volunteer of the Year?
I was greatly honored and humbled to be selected by the governor as the California Volunteer of the Year. I’ve had the privilege of serving with some amazing and talented people, both on our El Dorado County and Douglas County Search and Rescue teams, as well as with others from around the state. Being selected for individual recognition out of this vast pool of dedicated volunteers would be humbling enough, once you include the entire scope of volunteers around the state and all the important work they do … California is home to thousands of worthy recipients of this award, and I am proud to be an ambassador to help highlight their incredible accomplishments in addition to those related to SAR.
What do you do when you’re not volunteering for search and rescue?
I like to get out into all the great wildernesses of the western states and Alaska. Backpacking, ice climbing, mountaineering and canyoneering are my favorite pastimes, but if it involves a challenge, some sweat and a great view than you’ll probably find me having fun doing it.
How long to you plan on working with the county’s SAR?
At present, I lead the Technical Rescue Teams for SAR here in the basin and I take the responsibility of training the teams and our upcoming leaders within the teams very seriously. I’m sure there will come a time to pass the torch to the next generation of volunteer leaders to answer the call for service, and I relish any opportunities to help them rise to achieve their full potential.
Anything else you want to add?
Sure, I’ll never pass up the opportunity to promote the cause.
Do you want to volunteer to serve a critical need in our community?
If so, I invite you to join me and help change the lives of others when they need it the most, and probably change your own along the way. Apply to join the sheriff’s search and rescue team today.
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