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.
October 16, 2009
Are They Really Missing?
And that's what it's like with Search and Rescue sometimes. There's not always a call for help by a lost subject on a cell phone or an empty vehicle sitting at a trailhead. Sometimes, a person is reported overdue and the exact destination is unknown. So our leaders go with the information they do have, and we volunteers get our assignments and search the most likely areas. Sometimes, those search areas can be quite large and change as more information becomes available.
In this case, we were looking for a couple in their 70s--one of whom uses oxygen--who'd apparently gone to cut firewood but hadn't returned home the night before, so said a concerned neighbor. And being a concerned neighbor is a good thing, I'd say. Many times, concern for someone else's well-being or their home saves the day, so it's better to be safe than sorry and report those concerns. Imagine not doing so and then regretting it when things turn out badly.
So it didn't bother me when, after hours of driving around in the Polaris Ranger, following vehicle tracks here, there and anywhere they went within our large search area, and my teammates doing the same on ATVs and the DPS helicopter searching from above, we found out that the couple was just fine and had never been "missing" at all. They'd simply been ... well, somewhere else.
Okay, so maybe I rolled my eyes and laughed a little at the situation, as I tried to dust myself and my backpack off and pick the dirt out of my teeth, but I was happy that things had ended well and that some of the other scenarios that had been passing through my mind all day hadn't come true.
Besides, I learned some new tracking skills while we were out there. My teammate who was with me on the Polaris had been with the Border Patrol for 27 years, so this experienced tracker could tell the type of vehicle at a glance, the direction of travel, and the age of the tracks by touching his finger to the dirt and by the color. And he took the time to show me what he was doing. So, thank you, Steve, for teaching me some new stuff!
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