There are many outdoor activities that bring people to Sanders County from hiking to fishing and kayaking to hunting along with so much more. With so many ways to get out into the woods there are equality numerous ways to become, lost, hurt or standard. This is where the members of the Sanders County Search and Rescue (SAR) come in. They are a professionally trained group of volunteers that come from all walks of life to ensure the safety of the many who explore the county.
The organization is a non-profit and was started in 1974. The group is led by the Sanders County Sherriff, Tom Rummell. They employ many technically trained teams including Dive Rescue, Swiftwater Rescue, Mountain Rescue, Winter Rescue, and a Backcountry Medical Team.
With these teams they focus on three main types of rescue including: water rescue, mountain rescue and winter rescue. The group trains regularly and recently completed a water rescue training exercise between the towns of Plains and Thompson Falls, on the Clark Fork river.
On the day of the training exercise, in the pouring rain, the SAR group gathered to enact a scenario to hone their skills.
“We created a situation with multiple victims,” says SAR member, and second, Bob Thornhill.
Bob not only works with the Sanders SAR but is also a school resource officer for Thompson Falls High. He brings many years of military experience and several hobbies including scuba diving and rock climbing to the team.
Thornhill was one of seven members to participate in the exercise. The situation involved four victims, each in different grades of danger in a simulated a raft turnover. Possibly caused by turning over in rapids or some catastrophic failure of the vessel.
One of the aspects the group training is improving their ability to “Triage” as it were, or to prioritize targets to rescue to ensure that the job is done in the most organized, efficient and safest way possible for all involved.
They also use this prioritization approach to save casualties most likely to need recue early, and to save those less in need for last. As Bob put it, “what’s important now.”
The four victims, in the order they were saved, went as follows: the first victim was a swimmer, the second victim to be rescued was a person floating on the life raft turned over, and the third was one stranded on land. The fourth was a dummy sunk to the bottom of the river.
The Sanders County SAR has around 20 active members and about the same inactive members. They are all on call 24/7 365 days a year, whenever they are needed.
Since they are non-profit and receive very little funding the group squeezes by with an outdated facility and understaffing that makes their job quite difficult. They are currently looking for more volunteers and the only prerequisite asked of help is that they be willing to listen and learn, along with possessing a drive to help.
If interested, perspective volunteers can call the sheriff’s office to learn more. The group has meetings the first and third Thursdays of each month at 7 p.m. in their facility on Golf Street in Thompson Falls. Their training exercises are done about once a month.
This week the Sanders County SAR will also be assisting with the Sanders County Fair, and they often provide security, and traffic control, at other local events. They are looking to become more active in the community to garner more needed support and wish that the community would take more notice of the men and women who are ready to come to their aid as they enjoy the great and beautiful outdoors that surround this county.