McEntee: Search-and-rescue teams bring skill, dedication to their work
The Weber River flowed strongly on Wednesday morning, flanked by trees, grasses and flowers and search-and-rescue teams, friends and family of Corbin Anderson, the 4-year-old boy who was swept away Saturday.
Ten teams were working along the river. I watched as one pair with a German shepherd and a solo searcher with another shepherd probed the edges of the river, the hyper alert dogs nosing along the bank and occasionally stepping into the shallows.
Their intense concentration was palpable. But by that moment, they'd found no trace of the little boy.
The Weber County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team is composed of 100 volunteers, about six of them women, says SAR director Sgt. Brandon Toll. All bring skill and experience to their work and the ability to respond at a moment's notice.
In the myriad landscapes of Weber County, they train for searches in marshland, waterways, mountains and cliffs, snowmobile and ATV trails and more.
"We have to have people trained up for any possibility that can happen," Toll says.
Would-be volunteers must have demonstrable expertise and the gear and knowledge to go along with it. Applicants undergo a background check and, if they appear to be a good candidate, interview with SAR's executive staff.
"Basically, you're voted in and put on probation for one year," Toll says. "Hopefully, you can do what you tell us you can do, to make sure you work out for our teams."
Divers, for example, must be trained in black water diving, which is being able to work in an absolute absence of light. A climber's expertise is crucial. Search dogs and their handlers must be highly trained.
Toll says a lot of volunteers not only have great skill, but are involved in their communities and often have training in first aid and CPR, for example.
"Basically, be prepared for wanting to be part of something like this," he says. "I get a lot of people who say, 'Hey, I'm a Boy Scout leader.' That's great, but just being an outdoor enthusiast doesn't make you a good search-and-rescue candidate."
Nor is there always a happy ending, Toll says, and even the "toughest guy" might break down. If so, they're unlikely to remain a member of the SAR team.
For those who remain, like those on the river Wednesday, the search goes on.
Early in the search, the river flow was lowered and divers were able to make a detailed search. Now, with the water back at spring flow levels, divers would be in danger and other searchers were using kayaks.
Toll does worry about the Andersons' friends and family, who were searching on the banks of a river with a powerful undercurrent and pockets up to 12 feet deep.
"No safety gear, no life vests," he says. "It's nerve-wracking for me because they're putting themselves next to the water."
Not so for the search-and-rescuers who, like their counterparts all over the world, put themselves in peril for people they don't even know. The rest of us are lucky they're here.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.