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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Josephine County Search and Rescue

Josephine County Search and Rescue: “Professional volunteers” dedicated to finding you and bringing you home

Story by Tricia Drevets

Photography courtesy of Josephine County Search and Rescue

 

An elderly person wanders away from a campsite. A driver relying solely on his GPS leaves the main road to take a shortcut over the mountains in wintry conditions. A rafting group loses sight of one its members after a series of rapids. An inexperienced mushroom hunter is turned around in the woods.

What do all of these situations have in common? They all will result in a call to the Josephine County Search and Rescue (SAR) team. The person taking that call and mobilizing the team of trained volunteers: Deputy Cory Krauss.

A lifelong resident of Grants Pass, Krauss has been Josephine County’s SAR coordinator for more than four years. Before that, he was the sheriff’s department search manager for 12 years. His position is a demanding one that keeps him on call virtually round the clock, and he readily admits he couldn’t keep up with the work if he didn’t have a dedicated team of volunteers 

“SAR currently has 85 members, and of those 85 members, there is a core team of about 20 people I can count on to respond at any given time,” says Krauss. SAR members are men and women ranging in age from young adult to mid-80s, and they include retirees as well as people who work full-time in various professions. All of them are drawn to the idea of community service.

Jim and Ellen Johnson, a retired couple from Alaska who moved to Grants Pass after a year traveling on their sailboat, are two of those dedicated volunteer

“When we decided to move to Grants Pass, we knew we wanted to give back to the community,” explains Jim Johnson, who completed his initial SAR training about two years ago. “We wanted something that was mentally and physically challenging, and we wanted something that would give us the opportunity to see parts of the county that we might not otherwise see…SAR provided all of that.”

SAR members also enjoy a real sense of camaraderie. “What stands out for me is the honesty and integrity of all the members,” says Ellen Johnson, who joined SAR just a few months after attending meetings with her husband. “Plus you get to meet people from all walks of life.”

The Johnsons are radio operators who help in the coordination of SAR call-outs and in the support of SAR members while they are out on a search or rescue mission. “Mostly I am behind the scenes, focusing on what do we need to do for a search,” says Ellen, “and I also try to be available to support the other members.”

Jim is a member of SAR’s rope team and does multiple behind-the-scenes tasks. Other groups of what SAR calls “professional volunteers” are the dive, K9, ATV, radio, and snow teams. SAR also has Emergency Medical Responders––a medical team with certifications just below the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) level. Josephine County’s SAR is part of a regional network of teams that help each other in their work as needed.

To become a SAR member, volunteers must complete a rigorous three-weekend training academy held each spring. The academy includes classroom and field sessions in rescue and survival skills taught by experienced SAR members. Beyond that, members should attend at least six membership meetings per year and help with certain community events and fundraisers.

The county does not financially support SAR, so the non-profit Friends of SAR fundraises throughout the year to pay for equipment and training. The volunteers themselves pay a $25 fee for academy materials and must provide their own backpack full of essentials to sustain them on an overnight search.

The desire to serve is so great, however, that many SAR members spend much more to purchase the specialized gear necessary for effective missions. Last year, local members handled 35 call-outs for lost individuals. This year will likely beat that number.

Summer 2016 was a grueling time for SAR, and the numerous call-outs weighed heavily on Krauss. “We can go for long periods of time with no call-outs—the longest period since I’ve been here was an entire year—and then we can have five call-outs in three days. There is no rhyme or reason to it. They just seem to come in waves,” he says.

The wave in July included river accidents, a grueling mountain search, and the underwater search for three local victims of a small plane crash involving a pilot, John Belnap, his 17-year-old son, and his son’s friend. The recovery mission, which would have been difficult under any circumstances, was particularly difficult because John Belnap was a SAR member. “We all had an emotional connection with that situation,” admits Krauss.

When asked what he would like the public to know about SAR, Krauss says, “SAR members love doing their job, but ultimately, we would like people to go out and enjoy their activities and then arrive home safely.”

To that end, he stresses that people wear proper clothing for the outdoors and prepare for “the unexpected night out” with enough water and food. He also recommends that outdoor enthusiasts “make a plan, express that plan to friends and family, and then stick with that plan so SAR has a better chance of locating you” in case of emergency 

If you would like to know more about SAR, email Krauss at CKrauss@co.josephine.or.us.

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