If you’re lost, they’ll come and find you.
For more than 30 years, volunteers of the Washington Explorer Search and Rescue Spokane County unit have been walking door-to-door, going through neighborhoods and combing field and forest looking for missing people.
The unit was out recruiting new members Saturday at two open houses at the Fire District 8 Station 81 on Palouse Highway and Medical Lake City Hall.
“Finding someone alive and being able to take them back to their family is probably the most fulfilling thing,” said ESAR Training Director Shawn Lewis.
Anyone 14 and older can join, Lewis said, and the group especially wants to reach out to young adults.
The unit currently has about 20 members; the volunteers would like to increase those numbers to between 50 and 60. The unit falls under the Department of Emergency Services, and in the past has assisted sheriff departments with searches across the state and in Northern Idaho.
The recruits receive more than 150 hours of training. They meet every Tuesday evening and spend at least one weekend a month in the field conducting mock searches, Lewis said.
In the training, recruits learn wilderness navigation and survival skills, first aid and other rescue techniques.
There is a written exam after the training course, and recruits must solve a simulated search problem and show that they can survive alone overnight alone in the woods.
This year’s training is scheduled to begin Sept. 22, and classes should continue until to mid-May, Lewis said.
However, those interested can join at any time.
The job is a big time commitment, Lewis said. Members can get called out anytime day or night. “We’re on call seven days a week,” he said. “It’s just like being a volunteer firefighter.”
Typically, the unit does 12 to 15 major searches each year, Lewis said. The searches vary in length and scope. Sometimes, the members could be looking for lost hikers and hunters, while other times it may be Alzheimer patients who’ve wandered away from home.
“It’s a lot of walking,” said Lewis.
The unit also assists in searches for crime evidence and emergencies such as fires and floods.
While all searches can be taxing, searching for missing children always creates a lot of anxiety, members said.
“The longer it takes to find them, the harder it gets,” said Rick Brewer, who’s been a volunteer for 12 years.
“We’ve been fortunate – the ones we’ve looked for, we’ve found alive,” said Shirley Lewis, who has volunteered for almost 30 years.
While the primary aim is to help people, trainees benefit personally by developing skills they can use over a lifetime, and they learn self-reliance and responsibility, Brewer said. High school students who join can get credit, and the work counts toward any community service hours they may be required to complete.
In light of current tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, knowledge of what to do in emergencies and how to help others is especially vital, said member Brian Foust.
“It’s more of a preparation for urban survival, rural survival, everything,” said Foust.
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