The Southern Arizona Rescue Association, a non-profit group comprised of roughly 300 volunteers, has been saving lives in the region since 1958.
And when a 70-year-old hiker became disoriented in Sabino Canyon earlier this month, the search-and-rescue effort that ensued served to highlight the assistance the group brings to the table.
In the six months ending March 2012, the group responded to 45 calls for help, ranging from a 19-year-old ejected in a rollover, to a 66-year-old suffering from heat illness and a 37-year-old hiker who became too ill to continue.
With the county required under state law to provide search and rescue services, the Pima County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 7 approved a three-year contract with the organization, at $25,000 a year, to help provide equipment and supplies used in rescue efforts.
“When we have a call that we feel is going to warrant more resources than are immediately available, they’re always willing to help and get us the resources we need,”
said Lt. Robert Kimmins, who oversees the search and rescue unit within the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. “It would be a tremendous challenge to try to run search and rescue operations without them.”
Henry Jacobs, a local attorney, has been involved with the group for the past 30 years, since he was in high school.
From a taxpayer perspective, he said, the contract is a great deal for the county.
“The taxpayer pays nothing from a human resources perspective for thousands upon thousands of hours of very skilled volunteer time,” Jacobs said. “It would cost significant resources to afford this pool of talent in this quantity.”
Joining the group isn’t for the faint of heart.
Just the training alone is roughly nine months, covering wilderness searches, swift water rescues, technical rescues and first aid training.
Volunteers pay for their own personal rescue clothing and gear, although they are able to use group assets such as vehicles, radios, ropes and other technical equipment.
Above all, the conditions can be rigorous. After all, they’re often called out because hikers are suffering in the sweltering heat or stranded in downpours. “We’ve gone out when it’s 115 degrees in the shade and we’ve gone out in blizzards,” Jacobs said.
Jason Bowman, a 23-year-old engineering student, has been on hundreds of rescues since joining the group five years ago. An avid rock climber and hiker, he said joining the group was a chance to hone his skills. “And it’s a chance to give back,” he added.
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll’s district sees much of the rescue activity, given that it encompasses vast areas of the Coronado National Forest. His first in-depth look at the group came when they assisted with the Aspen and Bullock fires that ravaged Mount Lemmon in 2002 and 2003.
“It became clear to me then that the Southern Arizona Rescue Association serves a vital purpose in this region, providing a safety net for outdoors enthusiasts and literally saving lives,” Carroll said. “We welcome their assistance in keeping residents and visitors safe.”
Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to come to a volunteer orientation meeting Aug. 9. For more information, check out http://sarci.org/sara.htm