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.

August 13, 2010

The Stinkiest SAR Mission I've Been On

All the recorded call-out said was "evidence search" with no further details. Our team was being requested by local law enforcement for Monday morning. So I checked my calendar and, being free that day, called in and left my usual "This is Deb, unit number 6-2-0, I'll be responding" message. Then I got a direct call from the Lieutenant later that evening.

Oh. The evidence search would be at the dump, he said. Hm. Okay, well ... why not? Might as well go and see what such a search is like. And it was for a good cause, so....

So on Monday morning, I showed up at the SAR building with plenty of motivation. Yep, I was gonna find me some evidence! Let's go!

We met up with some volunteers from C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) who'd be accompanying us in this glamorous task and headed to the landfill, where we were were briefed on dump search safety by the landfill manager and then introduced to the friendly and very appreciative law enforcement folks. As we sat around in the break room at the main office, I was thinking, hey, this wouldn't be bad at all. Nice people to search with, and I didn't smell a thing!

So we all drove up to the top of the hill, where we'd be searching. With the help of the landfill folks, detectives had determined where exactly the bag of trash including the coveted item had been deposited a week earlier. That is, where in a 100-foot by 50-foot by 12-foot deep area.  Folks, that's over 60,000 cubic feet of trash! And it had been covered with dirt and heavily rained on during that time. And what we were looking for was quite small. (Sorry, can't tell ya anything about the item or the case, because it's ongoing.)

With the windows of the truck rolled up and the air conditioning on, everything seemed fine. And we'd be wearing Tyvek suits and booties, gloves, and face masks. So how bad could it be? And then I opened the door.

Beverly models the fashion of the day.
 Ugh!! I quickly located a face mask, which cut the "ugh!!" factor down by no more than about 5%.

Al gets all suited up.

But, okay, I was there to do a job, and, by george, I was gonna do the best I could. So I took my little mini-garden rake (the kind that's about ten inches long) and started in on the big batch of trash the backhoe had scooped and spread out--the first of many, many, many scoops.

The backhoe scoops and the bucket loader pushes what we'd searched out of the way.

Meanwhile, I tried not to pay attention to the stakes that marked the whole area to be searched. Oh ... my ... god, that was a lot of garbage! But I raked and raked, my tool hardly making a dent in the woven mass of trash. So I used my gloved hands too, as I breathed through my mouth inside my face mask and sweated profusely in my stylish Tyvek suit.

These booties didn't hold up for long.

As we searched, we kept altering our methods, trying to be as efficient as possible. It was a little like a stinky logic problem. One of the officers was sent out to buy different tools--longer rakes, shovels--so we didn't have to bend over so much. And, eventually, a larger piece of equipment showed up, rented from someplace in Phoenix, so the scoops got MUCH bigger too. And faster. We raked and raked our butts off, I tell you.

But after hours of raking, shoveling, picking, and being on the verge of puking for hours, we'd had no luck and had searched just a small portion of the designated area. So we peeled off our Tyvek and headed out. Despite the protective suits, however, the stink had seeped through and permeated our clothing, our hair, our boots and our vehicles, so much so that we could hardly stand ourselves (or each other) on the ride back.

When I got in my own car at the SAR building, I rolled down all the windows and made sure my seat was well covered. When I got home, everything I was wearing came off in the garage. The boots ... well, those are still airing out outside almost a week later. The clothes were immediately washed (twice), and I took what was probably one of the longest showers of my life.

Needless to say, I declined a second day of evidence searching at the dump. I'm happy to report, however, that the next day's search was successful.

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