Twenty-eight search and rescue volunteers from Southwest Montana gathered in Twin Bridges last weekend to participate in a Ruby Valley SAR training.
“This is the second year we’ve done this,” said Ruby Valley SAR president Bill Sinclair. “Last year we had eight people, this year we had 28. Some people from outside the county heard about it and called up and asked if they could come and I said sure.”
The training included multiple components – chainsaw safety, proper packing techniques with stock, raft instruction and swift water rescues.
Sinclair welcomed the trainees on Friday, June 12 with a dinner and safety briefing. Then, Saturday morning, everyone got to work.
“We started with a two hour chainsaw safety class,” Sinclair said. “Then we broke into groups and they either went with the pack animals or to the river for rafting or swift water rescue.”
Ruby Valley SAR operations coordinator Gordon Ash, taught the class on packing techniques with another SAR volunteer, Scott Wuelfing. Sinclair said it was important for the trainees to learn how to work with pack horses because SAR missions can take people into the backcountry.
“They needed to learn how to pack people out,” Sinclair said.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden Jon Obst traveled from the Flathead Lake area to teach the portion on swift water rescues.
“We’re required through the sheriff’s office to have basic safety training in all likely functions that we could encounter, like water rescues,” explained Ash. “Our goal was to go out and find the most knowledgeable individuals to bring in those techniques and teach us.”
Ash said all the participants were positive about the entire weekend, and appreciative of the training.
“We haven’t had a lot of call outs, but when we have, they have had the potential of being catastrophic,” he said. “We have to be a solid response that is also trained. That takes repetition. The sheriff has to be able to rely (on the fact) that we have a centralized communication platform to make sure it’s done safely and that everyone is on the same page.”
Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson said search and rescue units evolved from a need to have a group of people with the skills to go into areas and rescue people where others may not be able to access.
“Search and rescue has been more formalized as time has gone on,” Thompson said. “Montana has a unit in just about every county across the state … I think the event went extremely well. There seemed to be more people that came versus who we anticipated.”