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Monday, July 03, 2006

The Fourth of July

John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

The Fourth of July season represents a week of BBQs, parades and fireworks, and for my wife and I -- in our other public service role -- call outs for search and rescue.

As of this writing, our search and rescue unit has responded to 18 calls in the last 16 days:
  • An airplane crash in Utah Lake (took five days to recover the pilot and two passengers);

  • A hiker with a broken leg in a waterfall high on the backside of Timp (took all night to get him back to a landing zone for a Life Flight pickup);

  • Three lost Finnish students in the Aspen Grove area (actually found them on the next mountain over);

  • A young lady with a broken leg at Stewart Falls;

  • Two people on a wave runner on Utah Lake at night (wave runner quit running and sank . . . thank goodness for life vests);

  • A lost scout leader above camp Maple Dell in Payson Canyon (spent the night climbing over logs from a major forest fire);

  • Several stranded hikers on various cliffs;

  • A flash flood in Diamond Fork Canyon;

  • The recovery of the body of a snowshoer caught in an avalanche last winter high up on Timp;

  • . . . and the list goes on.
These calls were all within a two and a half week period and represent the work of only one unit: The Utah County Sheriff Search and Rescue Team. Other volunteer units are also stretched pretty thin.

I love the spirit of willing, enthusiastic volunteers in our state.

I read this past week about the Peoples Republic of China closing off access to the internet to its citizens and censoring blogging. I hear about continual civilian bombing in Iraq. I watch the elections in Mexico where the candidates offer a clear ideological choice but the results are too close to call at this time.

These things really help you realize the power of democracy and the value of the principles we are celebrating tomorrow - even simple things like the freedom to volunteer for public service and to post this blog.

It is true that freedom is earned, not free.

I hope we continue to earn it.

Have a great Fourth of July, and please be careful out there.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mike Jones said...

We were camped at Aspen Grove on the night you all took care of that hiker with a broken leg in a waterfall high on the back of Timp.

Could you all keep the noise down next time? ;) It was hard to sleep with helicopters flying in and out in the early morning!

Just kidding. As I woke up at 1 am or so listening to the helicopter land (than again much later when it took off again), I felt grateful for the SAR volunteers and felt bad that they'd have to function at their real jobs on little sleep the next day.

Mike.

7/03/2006 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Provo Daily Herald:

Sunday, August 13, 2006
Calls double to Search and Rescue PDF | Print | E-mail
KATIE ASHTON -

Falling 500 feet down a glacier and over another 20- or 30-foot ledge, one hiker found himself in a perilous situation with no way out on June 28.

Korte Wamsley, a 45-year-old Sandy resident who was hiking alone, began to yell for help. A passing hiker heard his cries and called 911. Immediately, Utah County Search and Rescue began to assemble and devise a plan for the arduous hike ahead to the primrose cirque area of Mount Timpanogos. With little time, rescuers had to make a decision -- hike it or rappel from a helicopter. They chose the latter.

"We were pushing the envelope" Chris Reed, a veteran rescuer, said about the operation.

Everything was slick and rocks were falling down, creating additional obstacles. Many of the rescuers were working in waterfalls, Reed said, and one of their teammates, John Valentine, who is also the Utah Senate president, had the onset of hypothermia.

Still, the search and rescue team was able to get Wamsley off the mountain safely. For them, it was just another day. For Wamsley, it was his life.

The mostly volunteer Utah County Search and Rescue team is dispatched on operations such as Wamsley's rescue every year. But this summer, rescue calls have more than doubled for the months of June and July, Utah County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Tom Hodgson said.

There were 23 calls in June and 28 calls in July, he said. In June 2005, there were 11 calls, and in the following month there were 12.

"We see a lot more people becoming interested in outdoor activities," he said, but to have a statistical increase such as this one is perplexing. "More than double is a lot -- you hope it's an anomaly."

This year, Hodgson also said there have been more people than usual who have been critically injured or killed from their outdoor expeditions or accidents. Trying to pinpoint the reason for the increased number of deaths, Hodgson said there are more people moving into the county and taking advantage of the variety of outdoor activities.

The veteran rescuers, those who have been on the team for decades, say they have never seen anything like it, Hodgson said. In a 60-day period, the team has been on 51 rescues. The majority of calls are to rescue boys and men between the ages of 12 and 30, Reed said. Having been on the team for 26 years, Reed has helped in more than 2,500 rescue operations.

"I'm not going to say that they're pushing the macho thing," he said of the boys and men, "but they are willing to push beyond their ability and take chances."

One of the major reasons why people become stranded is the lack of preparation for what they set out to do, Reed said.

"If you go in with the wrong equipment -- you're asking for it," Reed said.

Wearing shorts, T-shirts and flip flops to climb up a mountain is taking a huge risk, Alan Wakefield, a 53-year-old rescuer, said. But people do it all the time.

"If people are going to make an investment in the outdoors, they need to make an investment in their safety as well," Hodgson said.

Rescuers recommend never going alone, taking the proper equipment, wearing the right clothing and gear and taking a hand-held GPS device to help prevent a situation from turning tragic. They also recommend taking extra water and flashlights as well.

If the unexpected happens, and someone is stranded out on a lake or in the mountains, Hodgson said people need to understand a rescue takes time, "it's not going to happen instantaneously."

A rescue is incredibly methodical, the eight-year veteran said. Not only is the safety of the victim in their mind, but the safety of each other.

"We need to keep the safety of our rescuers first and foremost," Hodgson said.

Analyzing the terrain, weather and gear, everything comes into play before the lives of rescuers' are risked, he said. When a hiker from Salt Lake City went missing in the Lone Peak Wilderness Area on July 31, the team prepared for a grueling hike in terrain that had 70 percent to 80 percent slope grades and foliage 4 feet high.

"We try to formulate a plan to keep everyone safe and let us use the environment to the advantage," Hodgson said.

Often what the public doesn't realize is this search and rescue team -- a team of 48 volunteers -- will drop everything they are doing to respond to an emergency.

"People don't realize what a gem they have in these volunteers," he said. They are "giving their time, their money and their talent."

Only a small number of search and rescue missions are reported to the media, so the public doesn't know how many calls the team responds to, Wakefield said.

The volunteers go unpaid, for both hours during rescues and training, and they use their own equipment, saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, Hodgson said.

"I would rather spend money on being active in the community," rather than donating money to a cause, Reed said.

From attorneys to doctors, the team is made up of a variety of people who all have a common goal -- to help people in need while doing something they enjoy.

"Love the out of doors and it's a good way to use skills that I learn," said Wakefield, who has been rock climbing since he was 14. "I don't like watching sports, so it's what I do for entertainment -- it's our hobby."

But the jovial mood during a rescue can instantly disappear once their mission shifts to a recovery. Statistically, one in 10 missions will result in a fatality, Reed said, and that takes a toll on the group.

"If it ever gets to the point where they don't bother you, you probably need to quit," he said about the difficulty of recovery missions. "The little kids are the ones that tug at your heart."

Katie Ashton can be reached at 344-2548 or kashton@heraldextra.com.

Utah County Search and Rescue team will be looking for new members to join in several months. For those who are interested in joining the group or would like more information, call Utah County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Tom Hodgson at 343-4142.

Recount of June's rescue missions by Utah Senate President John Valentine, posted on www.senatesite.com:

An airplane crash in Utah Lake (took five days to recover the pilot and two passengers)

A hiker with a broken leg in a waterfall high on the backside of Timpanogos (took all night to get him back to a landing zone for a Life Flight pickup)

Three lost Finnish students in the Aspen Grove area (actually found them on the next mountain over)

A young lady with a broken leg at Stewart Falls

Two people on a wave runner on Utah Lake at night (wave runner quit running and sank ... thank goodness for life vests)

A lost scout leader above camp Maple Dell in Payson Canyon (spent the night climbing over logs from a major forest fire)

Several stranded hikers on various cliffs

A flash flood in Diamond Fork Canyon

The recovery of the body of a snowshoer caught in an avalanche last winter high up on Timpanogos.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.

8/17/2006 11:04 PM  

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