A Day within the Lifetime of a Search-and-Rescue Workforce


The decision usually comes at evening. Joe Blattner ­solutions his telephone, and on the opposite finish is both the sheriff’s workplace or one in all its deputies. “Hey, Joe,” they’ll say. “We’ve received one thing.” Relying on the season, that one thing may very well be any variety of emergencies: A hunter who never came out of the woods. An angler clinging to a strainer in a raging river. A hiker who misplaced his footing and fell off a rock face. An alpinist buried in an avalanche. A physique that must be recovered.

“A technique or one other,” Blattner says, “our job is to carry individuals house.” Because the chief of Missoula County Search and Rescue, Blattner oversees a unit of 32 different Montanans who courageous harsh circumstances in harmful nation to help adventurers. And, like many SAR groups within the nation, they’re all volunteers. “We’re individuals who love the outside, who’ve sturdy ties to our communities, and who simply wish to assist,” Blattner says.

In a given 12 months, his staff—which incorporates river, floor, Ok-9, rope, air, and avalanche items—will put in 4,000 hours of labor. This winter, they invited F&S to observe alongside as they carried out a simulated mission. The sort of mission that usually begins with a late-night telephone name to Blattner—and is adopted by a dispatch to his staff: “Reply to the warehouse proper now. We’ve received one thing.” —C.Ok.

The River Rescue Workforce

A search and rescue team on an inflatable zodiac on Clark Fork River.
On this simulation, water crews maneuver an inflatable Zodiac on the Clark Fork River. “If an angler is pinned on a log,” Blattner says, “time is of the essence.” Tom Fowlks
A search and rescue team near an inflatable Zodiak raft.
From left: Dan West, Allison Bernhisel, and Bart Bauer. Tom Fowlks
Two diving members of a search and rescue team prepare for a dive.
Lieutenant Jeremy Meeder and Sergeant Scott King, of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Workplace, help SAR in water missions—recovering our bodies and gathering proof. “Folks suppose that in the event that they toss stuff within the water, it’ll by no means be discovered,” Blattner says. “Not true. We’ll discover it.” Tom Fowlks

The Ok-9 and Floor Search Groups

Two search and rescue team members with two German shepherd dogs.
Missoula County SAR ­depends on German shepherds which can be licensed in two sorts of scent ­detection. The primary is monitoring and trailing. “That is for when ­somebody is misplaced, possibly transferring, and the canines can observe their scent,” Blattner says. The ­second is HRD—human stays detection—used when there’s a recognized or suspected fatality. SAR volunteers David Howe, with Abby, and ­Ellie Cosgrove, with Remi. Tom Fowlks
A search and rescue dog during a training course.
Remi works a scent path. Tom Fowlks
A jar of cadaver used to train search and rescue dogs.
The Ok-9 staff makes use of cadaver stays to coach the canines in HRD. Tom Fowlks
A team of search and rescue personnel drive a UTV and two ATVs down a road.
One of the vital environment friendly ways the bottom staff makes use of is working forest roads. “This enables us to rule out that an individual just isn’t in X location at X time,” Blattner says, “and we will begin to paint an image and ask: The place may this individual be?” A time-saving—and ­lifesaving—measure hunters can take to assist SAR is just leaving a notice saying the place they’re going. Blattner will get why hunters wish to guard a secret spot however says all it’s important to do is “write it down, seal it in an envelope, and provides it to a cherished one. Understanding your place to begin can shave 12 hours off of our search.” Tom Fowlks
A lineup of search and rescue personnel near vehicular equipment.
From left: Cosgrove, Jim Salyers, Bauer, Bernhisel, and Mick Faherty. Tom Fowlks

The Snowmobile Search Workforce

A team of search and rescue personnel riding snowmobiles.
Throughout winter, SAR ­deploys groups into the mountains on snowshoes, skis, and snowmobiles.

On this coaching session, members of the winter unit race by way of Lolo Go towards a sufferer ­buried by an avalanche. Every rider wears an avalanche beacon on their base layer in case one other ­avalanche happens. Inside their packs, they carry metallic shovels, ­avalanche probes, meals, ­water, and further clothes. Tom Fowlks

A search and rescue team standing beside snowmobiles.
From left: Shane Richmond, Ehlers, and West. Tom Fowlks

The Rope Rescue Workforce

A team of search and rescue personnel training for cliff climbing.
When a backcountry hunter misses a step, tumbles down a rock face, and finds himself ­injured so badly he can’t stand up, that’s when the rope staff involves the rescue. As soon as the sufferer is ­positioned—probably with assist from the Ok-9 staff or the air staff, which is able to deploy drones with ­thermal-­imaging ­scanners—the rope staff will get into place.

On this simulation, Seth Whitfield lowers Bowen Newell and a ­rescue litter, which Newell will use to safe the sufferer earlier than he’s lifted again up the rock face.

Blattner, who enjoys high-​altitude mountaineering when he’s not overseeing an SAR mission, says these rope rescues can get intense. “As quickly as you go over the sting of a cliff, your coronary heart fee goes up,” he says. “That’s a superb factor. It forces me to ­give attention to each transfer.”

The rope staff’s work isn’t restricted to the mountains, although. They’ll additionally are available in to help with swift-water missions. Blattner recollects an occasion when an inflatable raft had turn into pinned on a logjam on the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers. The 2 rafters received to security, however their boat was left caught. “We got here in in order that another person didn’t die making an attempt to recuperate it,” Blattner says. Tom Fowlks

A team of search and rescue personnel with climbing equipment.
From left: Alex ­Williams, Whitfield, and Bernhisel. Tom Fowlks
A team of search and rescue personnel pulling a rope.
Becca Wallace, ­Bernhisel, and ­Salyers pull on a ­mechanical-​­benefit rope system. Tom Fowlks

The Avalanche Rescue Workforce

A search and rescue team study a map and coordinates.
All through a mission, Blattner (middle) acts because the liaison with the sheriff’s workplace to maintain them updated on SAR’s progress. Right here, he works together with his staff from a cellular command put up to plan logistics for a ­missing-​­individual simulation. Tom Fowlks
A search and rescue team train with snow poles.
Members of the winter staff use avalanche probes to poke by way of snow particles and seek for a buried individual. “As soon as we really feel one thing with the probe—what may very well be a backpack, as an illustration—we begin digging,” Blattner says. Tom Fowlks
A search and rescue team pulls a person out of snow in training.
The staff extricates the sufferer from the avalanche particles. Tom Fowlks
A recovered trainee during a rescue mission training session.
After the staff wraps and preps the sufferer for heat and transport, they rush her to the ambulance.

Mission full.

What I really like most about this job,” Blattner says, “helps different individuals and seeing their response to our assist. And I simply love working with SAR individuals. We enter some harsh circumstances with one another, and that ­creates a very particular sense of camaraderie.” Tom Fowlks

This story was initially revealed within the Misplaced Concern in 2020.





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