Program offers teens search, rescue skills

THURSDAY, DEC. 30, 2010

They could have been home watching television or playing video games. They could have spent the evening catching up on homework or texting their friends. Instead, a group of teens spent a recent evening learning to tie rope rescue knots.

As members of Spokane County Explorer Search and Rescue, the young people spend time together each month honing their wilderness survival skills and learning the basics of search and rescue operations.

Formed in 1970, the team operates under the jurisdiction of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with the Washington Explorer Search and Rescue Association and the Boy Scouts of America.

Times have been hard for the organization. Many competing interests now vie for young people’s time and attention. “Our program nearly died off a year ago,” adviser Rob Brewer said.

However, a recent open house gave the Explorers a much-needed boost. Nearly a dozen teens showed up for the knot-tying workshop.

Brewer said joining the Explorers is a great way for students to meet volunteer hour requirements most high schools now incorporate as part of senior culminating projects. He added that adult volunteers are always welcome. But most of the kids had another reason for joining.

“It’s really fun!” said Breanna Graves, 16. “We learned how to make wire traps and catch squirrels. It’s a good learning experience.”

Sixteen-year-old Connor Coates grinned and said, “Learning is good!” He said this as he tugged on a rope tied around the waist of his friend Mitchell Nelson. The knot held – briefly.

Explorers receive training in a host of survival and rescue disciplines. Members recently completed a daylong navigation class where they learned how to use maps, compasses and GPS devices. Skills such as these are necessary when the unit is called to assist law enforcement search and rescue operations.

Brewer said Explorers can be asked to help with missing person searches in both rural and urban settings.

While the knot-tying class convened at the Sheriff’s Training Center in Spokane Valley, many of the workshops are held outdoors – even in winter. “You certainly don’t want to only do survival training when it’s nice and sunny,” Brewer said. “They (Explorers) need to see what the equipment will do.”

Indeed, several of the teens recalled making snow caves at Priest Lake and learning how to light snowballs on fire with carbide.

The easy camaraderie of those who enjoy similar pastimes was evident in the grins and chuckles that abounded while the teens shared their Explorer experiences.

As the group worked to master basic rescue knots, Graves made it clear why she’d rather be with the Explorers than home watching TV: “You can learn to survive outdoors and you get to hang out with cool people.”

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