Tonto Rim Search And Rescue Is Dedicated To Saving Lives


The price of rescue is seldom cheap, but one organization in Rim Country provides that service at virtually no cost to the community.

In the face of perils and obstacles that would likely deter the bravest of souls, members of the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad go out during the best and worst conditions whenever someone needs help.

Just one example of their services came this past winter when two Flagstaff residents became stranded by rising floodwaters in the East Verde River.

Thomas Warber, 38, and his 12-year-old son, Tristen, were on an elk hunting trip at the base of the Mogollon Rim when they became separated from their vehicle by rising floodwaters.

After fording the river and traversing along Crackerjack Ridge, members of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue were able to extract the two stranded hunters despite having to ford new torrents of floodwaters at virtually every turn.

"This is what we do, rescuing people, but I would advise hunters, or anyone planning an outing, to make sure they are aware of weather conditions before they go," Commander Bill Pitterle said.

It matters not if the person in need lives in the community, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue members have dedicated themselves to safeguarding all who need their help.

According to the organization's Web site, "Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad was created to assist the Gila County Sheriff in civilian incidents of people lost or injured in the back country of our county. We can only be activated by the Sheriff's Office."

Founded in 1964 by Gila County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Blackburn, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue is a nonprofit organization under the auspices of the Gila County Sheriff's Department.

When it was first formed, there was only one deputy assigned to coordinate rescue squads for all of the Payson, Pine and Strawberry area.

In 1977, a state law was passed placing all SARs in Arizona under the control of local sheriff's departments, which allowed them to recruit more volunteer members, receive better training and equipment and to develop better coordination and cooperation between counties.

They operate solely on donations and fund-raisers.

"Members must complete extensive training in such skills as survival, tracking, navigation, first aid and CPR, rope rescue, ATV operation and others.

"Each member must have personal survival equipment, clothing and gear necessary to accomplish the mission at hand," according to the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Web site.

Over the last 44 years the group's name changed a number of times and was originally called "Tonto React."

It has been headquartered in Star Valley and Payson, and is currently located in Strawberry, on Fossil Creek Road.

Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad

Date founded: 1964

Officers: SAR coordinator Sgt. Terry Hudgens of the Gila County Sheriff's Office, Commander Bill Pitterle, Vice Commander Roger Miotto, Secretary Claudia Bullard, Treasurer Karen Peterson and governing board members Hal Baas, Dave Pirtle and Kim Donau.

Contact: Bill Pitterle (928) 978-9105 or Dave Pirtle (928) 970-3830.

Purpose: The group's purpose is to assist the Gila County Sheriff in civilian incidents of people lost or injured in the backcountry of our county. The mission of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad is to find lost hikers, carry out injured, and recover the unfortunate who have lost their lives in The Tonto National Forest.

To join: e-mail Commander Bill Pitterle at

To Donate: Call DJ's Bed And Bath in the Swiss Village Shopping Center, 806 N. Beeline Highway, Payson, (928) 474-9680; Rim Country Powersports, 3898 E. Highway 260, Star Valley, (928) 468-6164; Payson Athletic Club, 400 E. Highway 260, Payson, (928) 474-0916.

Meeting dates: General membership meeting is held once a month on the second Thursday. The governing board meets the preceding Tuesday.

Major contributions: Ongoing search and rescue services to the community

Members: 65 members strong

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