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Search and Rescue welcomes new recruits

Chrissy Wayne is the president and spokeswoman for Kootenai County Search and Rescue in Coeur d'Alene. 
 (Kathy Plonka/The Spokeaman-Review / The Spokesman-Review)
Chrissy Wayne is the president and spokeswoman for Kootenai County Search and Rescue in Coeur d'Alene. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokeaman-Review / The Spokesman-Review)
Dave Buford Correspondent

Kootenai County Search and Rescue will be ramping up its volunteer roster after training nearly 20 new recruits this year.

An open house at the Search and Rescue building attracted 13 people in the area who are training to become members. Three people volunteered before the open house, and three more signed up afterward. After the new recruits are trained and ready, Search and Rescue will have about 90 volunteers at the ready.

Search and Rescue is a volunteer arm of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department. Members work with the sheriff’s posse, auxiliary and dog teams to help find lost or missing people.

“For people to volunteer, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time,” said Joe Foelsch, Search and Rescue vice president. “But when we’re needed, they try to get everybody they can.”

Foelsch started volunteering with the group more than a year ago. He’s been on six searches so far and said each search has been worthwhile. Having been lost before, he believes volunteering for Search and Rescue is the best way to return the favor.

“You can say it’ll never happen to me, but I know it can,” he said.

Foelsch went hunting on what he intended to be a two-hour trip in unfamiliar terrain. The weather turned snowy and he lost his bearings. He was without food until rescue crews arrived 36 hours later. He now carries an extensive pack and makes sure to have enough provisions for himself and somebody else.

He said the group’s 70 volunteers keep several snowmobiles, four-wheelers and other equipment on hand. In addition, volunteers supply their own search packs with everything they’ll need for a 24-hour search.

Searches are conducted by following a grid pattern, aided by global positioning system coordinates and topographical maps of the area. Not all volunteers can make it to every search, so the group is always on the lookout for more helpers.

Prospective members must attend a three-hour Set-Ready-Search class and must pass a background check. They’re paired with experienced volunteers during early searches and must complete a 90-day probation to ensure they attend meetings. After that, they’re voted in as members and pay a $30 fee for Search and Rescue clothing.

Meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. The first monthly meeting is reserved for training, which ranges from basic first-aid training to avalanche training and human tracking.

Marsha Davis, a group member with her husband, John, said the group is doubling up on training to help new recruits be prepared for spring, when missing-person calls begin to spike. Davis is a dog handler for Search and Rescue, and she helps with training classes in first aid, search orientation training and search management.

She’s been involved in search and rescue activities for 30 years and said the volunteers who stick with the group are often unselfish and devoted. Many times their late-night efforts go by without special recognition. But they still show up and do their best.

“They will go look for a lost hunter with the same enthusiasm as a lost child,” she said. “They’re dedicated.”

Chrissy Wayne, president and spokeswoman for the group, said she’s thrilled about the recent surge in new volunteers. Wayne started volunteering nearly four years ago and said it’s one of the best things she’s done in her life.

“Every search, all you have to do is look at the family members and friends and know you just have got to find them,” she said.

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