Search and Rescue team preparing for Olympics


    By Christijan Draper

    Utah County is beefing up its Search and Rescue team in anticipation of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

    Sgt. Tom Hodgson, the Search and Rescue Coordinator with the Emergency Services Division of the Utah County Sheriff’s Department, said the department has been doing interviews for new Search and Rescue members this month.

    Hodgson said the Sheriff’s Department wanted to have a larger pool of rescue team members available in Utah County because Provo will be hosting some of the Olympic events in 2002.

    Chris Johnson, incident command system lieutenant and rescue team member, said Search and Rescue teams from other Olympic host-cities have told Utah’s team that calls to Search and Rescue could surge as the Olympics approach.

    “We could get up to 10 times the number of calls during the Olympics,” Johnson said. “Historically that’s usually what’s happened.”

    Johnson said Search and Rescue anticipates many of the calls will be atypical, citing the number of foreign visitors as one reason.

    “They won’t be English speaking. They won’t be familiar with the trails,” Johnson said.

    The expectation that there will be many non-English-speaking visitors in Utah County for the Olympics has expanded the list skills deemed important for the interview committee expanding the squad, Johnson said.

    “Before, we were looking for medical experience and climbing or water skills. Now, speaking another language is a real draw for us,” Johnson said.

    Already, the Search and Rescue team has noticed an influx of calls to help people enticed to Utah by its Olympic notoriety, Johnson said.

    “We’re working out of our normal range,” he said.

    Johnson said the new members should be welcomed in by early November.

    New recruits, called probationary members, are required to train for their first full year with the team before becoming official Search and Rescue members, said Paul Byrd a BYU psychology professor who has been a team member since 1997.

    “After that you take a test. If you pass the test, you’re on the team,” Byrd said.

    Probationary members do about twice as much training as full members of the team that first year, Byrd said.

    Johnson said to have a large enough, fully-functioning team at the time of the Olympics, the Sheriff’s Department decided to fill the empty slots on the team now.

    That way the new recruits will be finished with their probationary year by the time the Olympics hit Utah, Johnson said.

    The Utah County Search and Rescue team is a member of the Mountain Rescue Association, Hodgson said.

    “There are strict mandates to belong to that organization,” he said.

    According to the official Mountain Rescue Association Web site, requirements for an entry-level team include climbing or mountaineering skills, orientation and night travel skills, and survival skills in extreme weather.

    Loyd Carter, a training coordinator for Search and Rescue and team member for 10 years, said that aside from mountaineering, diving or emergency medical experience, Search and Rescue looks for applicants who will be in the community for a long time.

    “Some people want to be on the team to have it on their resume,” Carter said.

    He said Search and Rescue could not afford to train people and then have them leave town soon thereafter.

    Team members also need the ability to meet the financial demands of being on the team, Carter said.

    He said when he joined Search and Rescue he had a lot of his own climbing and diving gear, but still spent almost $3,000 on necessary gear his first year on the team.

    “It’s an expensive hobby,” Carter said.

    The members have to provide their own equipment, including climbing hardware, harnesses, helmets, diving equipment and radios among other things, Hodgson said.

    The Sheriff’s Department can provide a few things, like rope, Hodgson said, but the individual team members have to provide the rest.

    Byrd, who said he got involved with Search and Rescue because he was looking for a pastime after all of his children were in college, and Carter said they keep their Search and Rescue gear stored in personal vehicles, ready for use.

    Carter said he might have to upgrade to a larger truck to house all of his gear.

    Although a full team consists of 51 volunteer members there are currently about 35 active members on Utah County’s Search and Rescue team, Byrd said.

    Hodgson said the Sheriff’s Department would not be able to perform rescues without the Search and Rescue team.

    “We depend on the volunteers. I’m real proud of them and what they do,” Hodgson said.

    Team members are required to have 50 hours of training a year in order to remain on the team, Carter said. But many on the team get many more hours than that, he said.

    Utah County Search and Rescue meets monthly for training, Hodgson said.

    Additionally, to remain on the team, individuals also have to respond to at least half of the Search and Rescue calls, Carter said.

    “Sometimes the calls last for two to three hours. Sometimes four or five days,” Hodgson said.

    Utah County Search and Rescue responds to emergency calls in all of Utah County except Rock Canyon, Carter said.

    The Rock Canyon area is serviced by the Provo Police Department, he said.

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