PROVO — Helicopters and emergency vehicles often serve as symbols of search and rescue efforts in Utah’s mountains.
The Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau team assisted on 122 calls throughout the state in 2018, flying for a collective 338 hours, according to Marissa Cote, department spokeswoman. The dive team also helped on several recovery calls.
But the searchers on the ground tend to be far less visible.
“They’re teachers, they’re engineers, they’re businessmen, lawyers,” said Greg Beveridge, a now-retired high school math teacher who has served on the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team for 14 years.
And what some may not realize is that they donate hundreds of hours every year to be there when someone needs their help.
When Utah County receives a search and rescue call, 20 to 30 volunteer team members are “out in the back country” combing the area for the victim.
Beveridge joined the team because “I just wanted to do something where I felt like I could contribute to the community that I lived in, and I didn’t want to run for office or anything like that,” he said.
The retired schoolteacher is one of about 60 team members who gave a collective 7,069 hours in 2018, spent on 96 searches. During those rescue efforts, 10 lives were saved, according to statistics from the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. Those numbers are in line with the previous year’s for the county.
On average, a search and rescue team member donates about 300 hours a year to calls, in addition to time spent at monthly team meetings and honing rescue skills, Beveridge said. First-year team members spend even more time training to get up to speed on their skills.
All of the members focus on technical skills that are required in a variety of common rescue situations, such as helping hikers who are stuck on ledges. Oftentimes, they are placed in dangerous situations themselves.
“They’re working on high angles, a lot of what they do is slick, it’s muddy, it’s rainy, it’s snowy, it’s the same conditions that get the person in trouble that we’re going to help, our guys are dealing with as well,” said Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Sorensen.
When the crew gets called out, Beveridge said the members’ training kicks in and “we kind of go into an automatic” mode.
“And so, depending on circumstance, it might be a medical condition where somebody’s fallen or they’ve broken a leg or bone or something else, there’s a certain sense of urgency that you get up there and provide the comfort, the relief, the support, the help,” Beveridge said.
“You just kind of focus on the job, and get up there and help whoever it is, honestly, without giving too much thought about what you’re doing. You’re just doing it. But you know you’re doing it for a good reason.”
Most rescues end happily, but sometimes they end in tragedy.
Those tend to be the more memorable ones, Beveridge said. Last year, the Utah County team aided in several body recoveries.
“That takes a toll on the team. The families too, of course,” Beveridge said. “We understand when we’re out looking for a person and it’s a recovery effort, we understand what the family’s going through and take every measure we can to locate and find the person who’s been lost.
“And it’s hard, it can be hard on team members, especially after all the efforts are made and the victim’s been recovered and back with their family,” he said.
But what helps pull the teammates through those tough times is their friendship, Beveridge said, as well as support from the sheriff’s office.
“There’s the camaraderie that you develop with the team members, the friendships and the experiences that you have, both good and bad, that kind of draw you together.”
That camaraderie, he said, is what’s kept him on the team for 14 years.
Though they all come from diverse backgrounds, what unites the searchers is “a willingness to go help others. If we didn’t have that interest … in going out and helping somebody that needed help … it couldn’t sustain itself, search and rescue. It just couldn’t last,” Beveridge said.
Sorensen echoed Beveridge’s thoughts.
“They come do this for us, and they do it for free. They don’t get any compensation for it, and they leave their families on holidays, they leave in the middle of the night on snow storms or whatever the conditions are, and they come out and they help us,” Sorensen said.
“They just want to help people.”
Beveridge offered some suggestions for those planning outdoor activities to help them stay safe. He said sometimes accidents and tragedies can’t be prevented, but many can be through preparation and being aware of your surroundings.
For example, the crew sees many slip-and-fall accidents at popular areas like Bridal Veil Falls and Stewart Falls. Those areas are “relatively harmless,” unless visitors do not pay adequate attention, Beveridge said.
“It’s all the things that people are told all the time. Be prepared, let people know where you’re going, go with somebody, don’t go alone, and just understand what you’re getting into, or what you could find yourself getting into,” he said.
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