Rescue Teams Need Help

Search and rescue groups seeking permanent home

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Tonto Rim Search and Rescue and the Gila County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Posse are combining forces to establish a centralized training and meeting facility in Payson, but say they need donations to bring the project to fruition.

Both groups have outgrown their existing spaces, with room for gear, trainings and meetings at a premium.

“Over the last few years we have used the funds we raise to focus on improving our response time to critical missions, and that includes having the right rescue equipment in the right place at the right time,” said Bill Pitterle, commander of TRSAR. “We have a small facility in Strawberry and that works for missions in that area such as Fossil Springs, but it is a long round-trip for anything to the south or east of Payson.”

A temporary solution was establishing equipment caches in Payson and Star Valley, which helped lower response times, but meant critical gear was spread out across five locations.

“Having a facility centrally located to the majority of our missions has long been a desire, but with the addition of the Mounted Posse, and the significant value they provide to joint rescue operations, it is time to move this up to a priority,” Pitterle said.

In addition, a central space would provide room for joint trainings.

TRSAR responds to upwards of 50 search and rescue missions a year. Missions include rescuing hikers for heat or cold stresses, injuries, lost hikers and children and even a few swift water rescues. Sometimes the volunteer group even provides assistance in other counties, such as at the Superstition Mountains, White Mountains and the Little Colorado River near the Grand Canyon.

Roughly 2.5 years ago, the Mounted Posse formed and the two groups quickly began working together.

Where TRSAR can rescue a stranded hiker from a cliff side using technical rope rescue skills, for example, the Mounted Posse has the ‘horsepower’ to then haul that person out of the canyon.

“We have developed a safe way to tow a stretcher with a horse, cutting rescue time in half and with less strain on ground rescue teams. We work very well with TRSAR, helping pack ropes and equipment with pack animals into remote canyons and wilderness in Gila County making our home safer for others to enjoy,” said Earl Chitwood, with the posse.

Fund-raising efforts have provided equipment and training so far, but acquiring a facility will require additional assistance.

While Gila County is a 4,800-square mile recreational destination for many residents, the sparse population creates fund-raising challenges not shared by search and rescue groups in counties with significantly greater populations, Pitterle said.

Our goal as a team is to have a facility that we can operate our day-to-day operations and with the help of the community, we foresee this happening, he added.

Mail donations to Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, P.O. Box 357, Pine, AZ 85544.

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