High-angle rock rescues? Body recovery? Search operations? All in a day’s work for Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue. And payment? They serve for free.
According to the Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue Web site, SBCSAR is a branch of Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department which employs unpaid volunteers to handle emergencies such as car-over-the-side accidents, downed aircraft, swiftwater rescues, high-angle rock rescues, and search operations for overdue hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, and missing children. Funding for the team’s special equipment comes from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, plus donations from charitable foundations and from grateful individuals and families.
The program has certainly saved lives, said Nelson Trichler, an incident commander for SBCSAR. In an interview, Trichler recalled the incident for which SBCSAR won the Higgins-Langley Swiftwater Rescue Award. During a heavy rainstorm, a car got swept down the river, and Search & Rescue pulled the person out of the vehicle, saving his life.
Trichler said the organization currently consists of about 28 men and women who dedicate “hours upon hours” of time a month to the program. The team averages about two calls per week, and the members are on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, with their busiest weeks during the holidays. In addition to the 110 or so annual calls, members must dedicate time to training and maintenance. Training is one Saturday and one Sunday of each month, and administrative aspects, such as equipment checkups, fund-raising, and public relations, are also attended to monthly.
Although SBCSAR consists solely of volunteers, Trichler said members “consider [themselves] nonpaid professionals who can perform a service no other program in the country can provide.” Members’ ages run from early twenties to early sixties, and their other occupations range across the board. Trichler listed teaching, running a business, financial services, and real estate as members’ other day jobs. In addition to the 28 people, SBCSAR has two professionally trained, certified dogs, Blaze and Kody, who make up the auxiliary part of the team.
However, the 28 plus two are not enough since the organization would ideally have 35 to 40 human members. Trichler said that SBCSAR has not had any problems successfully completing missions, but he admitted, “It gets a little thin during the middle of the work day.” He attributed the low number of volunteers to changes in Santa Barbara. “It’s very difficult to live here, and a lot of our long-term members have left Santa Barbara for work or family situations,” he explained.
Trichler expressed hope that people “who are willing to give back to the community with time and expertise” will consider joining the team. The minimum age requirement is 18, and the Web site stresses that hopefuls should love the outdoors. “We don’t need someone who is a professional rock climber. We train people from scratch,” said Trichler, though he conceded that volunteers “need to be in good physical condition, and they need to have a lot of flexibility in their time.”
“This is one of the few organizations in this country that goes directly into operations, pays no staff, and depends on the dedication from people on the team,” Trichler proudly said of SBCSAR. “It is very rewarding to be a part of Search & Rescue and to give back to the community.”