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Search and Rescue volunteers answer the call during pandemic

Posted at 9:48 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 23:48:29-04

It’s mid-April.

Despite National Park closures, State Park restrictions and a pandemic causing global health concern, in retrospect, not much has changed for search and rescue teams. From Northern Utah to Southern Utah, SAR teams have been busy. Is the call volume connected to COVID-19 and the directive’s in place or is based on the change of season? SAR members say, a mix of both.

“Work for us is pretty much the same as normal on a rescue just those few extra barriers between us and a patient,” said Todd Taylor, a volunteer of seven years with the Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue Team. “Every team member is a mountain person, we love to hike, run, climb, bike, we’re going to answer every call, we love search and rescue as volunteers, if we didn’t love it we wouldn’t be doing it.”

In April 2019, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s SAR responded to no calls. This month alone in 2020, they’ve responded to three.

“With spring break being last week and obviously kids not being in school we are seeing a lot more teens and kids outside,” said Shawn Kenney of Salt Lake Count Sheriff SAR, who responded to an incident involving two ‘cliffed out’ young brothers on Monday afternoon in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

As the season changes, conditions are changing across the state of Utah. Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue want members of the public to be: Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Prepared.

Meanwhile in Southern Utah, the Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue Team has responded to nearly 40 rescue missions in 2020.

“Last year we did 130, the year before we did 132, we’re on pace to at least do that if not eclipse it this year,” said Sgt. Darrell Cashin, the Liason between SAR and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. “Unfortunately, the last week or so it’s picked back up and it’s gotten to the point where people are just like we have got to get out, we have got to do something.” Since the beginning of the week, Washington County SAR has been out on two rescue missions resulting in the recovery of a body.

Since Zion National Park is closed in Southern Utah and with State Parks restricted to county residents, more people are finding space in remote desert areas.

“We’re not getting the calls in Snow Canyon, we’re not getting the calls at the State Parks but we’re still getting calls out on the mountain biking trails and the hiking trails,” said Sgt. Cashin.

Both Salt Lake County Sheriff SAR and Washington County Sheriff SAR have the same message during the pandemic. They want you to not only be prepared but help prepare the rescuers with some answers before they get to you.

“The big thing with us is, we don’t know who we’re rescuing,” said Sgt. Cashin. “We don’t know where they’ve been, who these people are so we’re having to take that extra precaution putting on surgical masks and N95s and gloves and stuff when we’re dealing with people.”

Emergency responders, law enforcement agencies, hospitals and other essential medical groups have been trying to catch up with the appropriate amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) to stay safe while working the front lines of the pandemic. Search and rescue teams are no different when it comes to working with patients in an uncontrolled environment.

“You worry about your supplies, am I going to have enough to do the job and am I going to expose my people, am I going to get exposed and bring it home to my family,” said Sgt. Cashin. He notes that social distancing is not only practiced while on a rescue call, but extremely difficult to achieve with so many working on a given rescue mission. “We’re asking you as people not to expose our people and our loved ones especially if you’ve potentially been around COVID or you aren’t feeling well,” he encouraged.

SAR teams from both units described social distancing while in the staging area and using work equipment. Masks are used in addition to offering them to patients in order to prevent any potential virus spread. Regardless of these circumstances, members from both Salt Lake County and Washington County say they are here to answer the call no matter what.

“We still have to rescue people, you can’t just leave them out there,” Sgt. Cashin, who wants those to know that SAR will respond regardless of your county affiliation. “We’re going to be there, we’re going to come if you’re in trouble, I don’t want people to not call us for fear that they’re not in their county, they’re not in their state.”

Learn more about Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue here.

Learn more about Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue here.