The call comes in by radio or phone. There is a lost person in the mountains. An on-call chief telephones dispatch to secure the needed information and calls out the Patrol – by phone and pager.
Members report to Headquarters and are expected to be there within at least 30 minutes after they receive the call. Gear is loaded, Headquarters is activated and the team heads for the Mission Base. They must be able to operate for at least 48 hours with the food and gear they carry with them.
Reporting to Mission Base, they set up a base for the Patrol that is out of the way of the Mission Headquarters and their Senior Officer reports to the Mission Coordinator (Incident Commander) for the team assignment. It may be a team search, line search, checking houses or whatever the Coordinator needs. The Senior Officer briefs the team; they check out and begin searching. Completing an assignment they return, rest and go out again and again until the mission is terminated or the team is relieved. Then they check out, pack, return to Headquarters, and rework their gear for the next mission.
It’s not a set pattern, but it works! It is NOT routine. Every search is different. The pressures are sometimes extreme. Training is intense so members will know HOW to search. And, what is most amazing is that, on most search activities, the Patrol operates without adult supervision! Proof that young men and women can effectively “manage the search function.”
A number of missions involve in-town searching. Children, elderly people and the mentally ill DO become lost in town and it is necessary to look for them.
When a call comes in members are asked to report directly to the home of the missing person or the last seen point. A Command Post is established in that area where Patrol Command Staff works with law enforcement officers to plan the operation. Law enforcement personnel generally cover the streets while Patrol members begin block searching.
Members in a line search open fields. All drainage ditches, culverts, and play areas are checked. The homes of friends and relatives are checked. But, the major work is block searching. A team is assigned to each block in the search area. They ask residents to check their homes and yards. They look in window wells and under trees and shrubs and check any unlocked areas to which a person might have access. Heavy use is made of residents and the news media.
It is tedious, time consuming work, but quite necessary because most law enforcement agencies do not have the personnel to do this type of searching. The current find rate for in-town searches is well over 95%.
All members have a solid background in emergency care for they may also be “first in” at an emergency. They must also be prepared to render emergency care in the backcountry if they find a missing person who is injured or ill.
Training starts with an intensive day-long course including patient packaging and Healthcare Provider Basic Life Support. Members may also take a six-month course that follows the DOT national standard curriculum for the EMT-B. All must maintain a current CPR card.
The Patrol, and most other SAR teams, are not disaster rescue units. However, the conditions that exist in a major disaster are quite comparable to those encountered in many backcountry situations. Victims who need to be lowered from high places or brought out of small spaces are typical. There is limited emergency care gear; there is the need to improvise and there is no access to the victims by vehicle. Thus, SAR techniques are directly applicable to the disaster situation and the SAR community is a vast resource for help during major emergencies.
However, to be effective, SAR teams need training in how to manage a disaster; how to “shift gears” to the condition where one rescuer is handling 10-20 victims instead of the more common reverse; how to improvise if litters are not available and how to do reconnaissance, rescue and triage.
Members are give this training in a short course and it has paid off in handling incidents such as the major flood in Littleton in 1965, train wrecks, chemical spills, plane crashes, the “Blizzard of 2003,” and other incidents. They also have training in the management of a commercial aircraft crash in the backcountry.