Search and rescue volunteers: Just a beep away
A month ago Tim Moore left his home in the middle of the night to search for a 17-year-old boy who sheriff’s deputies thought was lost in the mountains outside Heavenly Ski Resort.
The boy was later found safe in South Lake Tahoe, but Moore and dozens of other volunteers spent hours on the icy slopes looking for him.
“We looked everywhere,” he said. “We were high in the mountains where it is freezing and you can’t see well, but we were doing it for the feeling you get helping others.”
Moore is one of 40 El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department’s search and rescue volunteers on the South Shore. The volunteers go on a average of 40 to 60 rescues a year.
“Without the volunteers we would be out of business,” said Deputy Terry Fleck. “They have to be able to go on a mission at a moment’s notice, and that is a huge commitment.”
Most of the rescues are on the east slope of Echo Summit.
And most missions call for rescuers to help people injured in the wilderness or to find skiers or hikers who disappear.
Because outdoor activities are so popular around South Lake Tahoe, the sheriff’s department performs more search and rescues than most law enforcement agencies, said Todd Crawford of the sheriff’s department.
The department, however, only has 11 deputies trained for search and rescue.
“Basically we would not be able to do it without volunteers,” Crawford said.
Moore said he began volunteering 10 years ago because he wanted to pitch in and help people in the community where he has always lived. Volunteering, he said, is a change of pace from his work at the Sierra Pacific Power Company.
“It is exciting,” he said. “There is an adrenaline rush because we want to do this.”
Volunteers are always ready, keeping warm clothes and rescue equipment in their cars because they can be called at any time.
“We all have other obligations but this is not a burden,” Moore said. “We will drop whatever we are doing because most of the time we want to go.”
He is also a member of the search and rescue cliff-rescue team, which is counted on for difficult and dangerous rescues.
“We are literally putting our life on the line, and we have to trust and rely on others,” said Moore who knows that lost or hurt people trust and rely on rescuers to save them.
He recently took part in a three-day search for a woman lost at Sugar Bowl.
“I started to worry we might find a dead body if we found anything at all,” he said.
Fortunately she was found relatively unharmed.
“Finding someone is good for the person you save,” Moore said. “But there is a reward for you. It is an incredible feeling knowing you helped someone.”
Fleck, who helps train volunteers, enjoys that feeling also.
To ensure they have the proper skill to go on missions, volunteers can spend spend 12 hours a month training and more hours in meetings and classrooms. They are also married to their pagers.
“That can completely screw up their plans,” Fleck said. “But we need them; we live and breathe with volunteers.”
So do many of the people they save.
“Being the first to reach someone is the best experience because you know they are happy,” said Moore. “When someone says ‘thank you’ it means the world.”
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