By John L. Valentine
and Jim Tracy
What do a school teacher, farmer, small business owner and state senator all have in common?
They are volunteers for the Utah County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team.
An article in the Sept. 24 Salt Lake Tribune, "A search and rescue in Grand or Wayne counties can cost you," elicited reader comments below the online version that made it abundantly clear there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding the volunteers who perform search and rescue missions in Utah.
The vast majority of counties do not charge a fee when a search and rescue team comes and rescues you. There may be a charge for Life Flight, AirMed or for a ground ambulance, if used, but the search and rescue team members generally volunteer their time, equipment and gasoline to assist those in great distress.
They are your neighbors, friends, co-workers and maybe even some of your family members. They are not just sitting around on the taxpayer's dime. They leave their private lives and jobs to perform as a team without individual credit or honor.
Granted, two rural counties, Grand and Wayne, charge for search and rescue operations similar to those of their volunteer ambulance or fire departments. These counties have a very small tax base with their own citizens, but have a highly disproportionate number of calls for people who are not residents of their counties.
Recently, the media covered a rescue by the Utah County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team of a base jumper stranded on the side of a cliff in Provo Canyon. Although dramatic and dangerous, it represented the best of the training and motivation of our volunteer search and rescue teams in the state. This rescue was accomplished by 32 unpaid search and rescue volunteers, one paid sheriff's deputy to supervise the operations and an Orem City fire/ambulance crew.
Utah County receives between 100 and 120 calls per year for search and rescue assistance. Statewide, the search and rescue volunteers are called over 750 times per year. When you call our team, we come, but we do not charge for our services. We do it out of love and service for our fellow man.
So the next time you go into the mountains, out on the lake or out to the desert, your neighbor who is a search and rescue member will be there to help you in your time of need ... and without charge.
John L. Valentine is a member of the Utah Senate and a volunteer search and rescue member since 1980. Jim Tracy has been the sheriff of Utah County since 2003 after 26 years as a deputy sheriff.