Search and Rescue: Do you have what it takes? | SierraSun.com

Search and Rescue: Do you have what it takes?

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun Nordic Search and Rescue trainees and members place Jimmy Smith on a stretcher during training earlier this month at Squaw Valley. The 30-year-old group is looking for volunteers.
ALL |

WANTED: Men and women who love the snow, like to solve mysteries and don’t mind the dark. You will go on adventures, make new friends and save lives.

The men and women of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team all meet the above qualifications and are currently looking for others who would like to join their all-volunteer rescue team.

The team started in 1976 after the death of a local boy. No organized backcountry ski team existed at the time. Now, 30 years later, the 100-member team includes skiers, a snowmobile team and a snowcat team. Another crew is staked out in the communications truck to relay communications about the search.

“If we knew then what we do now, we would have probably found those boys,” said founding member Doug Read. “We’ve learned a lot by trial and error. We’ve had our hard times and good times. It’s a good group. For me, it’s like my Rotary Club.”

The team is considered one of the top winter search teams in the country, according to Russ Viehmann, TNSAR president. Locally, the team covers Lake Tahoe and Donner Summit. It is also qualified to go outside of the county for winter searches and have been called to Yosemite, the California coast and Bear Valley, according to Viehmann.

“It is a great challenge going out on searches,” Read said. “It challenges your mind to figure out what they were thinking and what they were doing.”

“We use skis rather than snowshoes,” Viehmann explains. “We can cover in three hours what most teams cover in a day. It helps out a lot.”

Read also noted that TNSAR has one golden rule that not all other search and rescue teams consider important.

“We critically feel we have to go at night. We consider going at night mandatory,” Read said. “A lot of crews won’t go out at night. We’ve saved a lot of people. It’s been a good experience to develop an organization that has been able to do that.”

The group is comprised of volunteers from various backgrounds, many of whom are paramedics or firefighters. Member John Pang, who is also the fire chief of the Meeks Bay Fire Department, said the members put all else aside when out on rescues.

“We work as a team. We try to help each other out ” whatever it takes to find the person,” Pang said. “It’s a great group of folks who all volunteer to help people in distress.”

Read notes that historical knowledge is also important when going out on rescues because a lot of the territory has been covered before and searches go quicker when people are familiar with the territory.

“You just have to like cold weather and helping people out,” Viehmann said. “A lot of the guys who have started the team are getting older and having babies. We’re looking for new blood.”

In addition to being a powder hound, potential search and rescue volunteers must receive an Office of Emergency Services card from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, which is free. The group hosts monthly trainings and searches last anywhere from half an hour to eight hours, typically.

“There’s a lot of tricks to learn. If you find a track, then you have a track to follow,” Read said. “A lot of times it’s just a mystery. You have to be detectives and figure out where people went.”

In addition to actual searches, volunteers can also become dispatchers and participate in winter awareness education programs in the local schools.