These are my stories as a volunteer member of the Sheriff's Search & Rescue team in Coconino County, Arizona. I'll share what it's like to go from a beginner with a lot to learn to an experienced and, hopefully, valuable member of the team, as well as the missions, trainings, and other activities along the way.
About Coconino County
About Coconino County
Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.
March 1, 2008
Hurry Up and Wait ... and Wait
The page came at around 5pm, while Steve and I were hanging out at a coffee shop. Apparently, a man in the area of Flagstaff's Urban Trail System, in the woods south of Butler Avenue, had fallen and broken his leg and called for help on his cell phone. My husband said he could use some exercise and fresh air after sitting in that coffee shop for so long, so he offered to walk home and let me respond to the SAR building directly. I figured the quicker I could get going the better, anyway, since it would soon get dark and the injured hiker would be lying out there in pain, waiting for rescue. Now, however, we're not so sure the caller was a hiker. Or that he is injured at all.
When we volunteers and our Coordinator, Sergeant D, got to the staging area near Sam's Club--not the usual sort of location for a search and rescue mission to begin--a police officer is there, with two others already in the woods . The supposed hiker had contacted dispatch at least a couple more times since the original call, and, at one point, what sounded like arguing was heard in the background. Hence, the armed officers on ATVs. Other interesting things came out of those subsequent calls. At first, the man said he had a green tent. Then it turned red. He said he had gasoline and a lighter, but, when asked to start a small signal fire which the helicopter could spot, he refused, saying that would "hurt nature." The man would not even given his name. Given the apparent search area, a popular place for transients to camp in the forest close to town, we are all now thinking this man, who seems unwilling to participate in his own rescue, may likely just be jerking us around. Someone said he sounded drunk.
We hear on the radio that officers are talking to transients in the area, trying to figure out who may have called. One man tells them he thinks he knows who it was, but that lead goes nowhere. Wrong guy. While all of this is going on, two members of our mounted unit show up. Huh, that's kind of strange for this type of mission. But Sergeant D explains that he was having trouble getting ground-pounders to respond tonight, so he made some calls to mounted. Many of our "regulars" are currently on an overnight as part of the "Snow and Ice" technical training and others are out of town. Assuming this was a legitimate rescue mission--as he always would--Sergeant D wanted to get as many people out as possible.
Time goes on, and the horseback riders finish saddling up and head out to search. One of the ATV drivers returns for rope, to help get the other ATV out of the mud. And I keep standing here. Sergeant D suggests to dispatch that an officer go to the nearby convenience store and inquire about who may have recently purchased one of those disposable, pre-paid cell phones. Sometimes store clerks get familiar with transients and can identify them. By now, the other two volunteers have gone back to the truck to keep warm and maybe take a nap, but I'm too nosey. So I just stand here some more.
Eventually, the officers return from the forest and decide that enough time and resources have been spent on this mission that seems to be going nowhere, with a supposed victim who won't help us help him. So they call their boss--the Police Chief, I assume--and Sergeant D calls his, and they receive permission to suspend. Sergeant D confirms that the caller was recorded, so he can enter those conversations into the report as evidence that he was being uncooperative. We can't help but wonder if he was watching us from somewhere. Was this a test? Or was this guy just messing around? In any case, we tried.
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