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Search and rescue volunteers work overtime to help strangers

Published: Monday, Oct. 28 2013 8:00 p.m. MDT

A hiker fell on the Bell Canyon Reservoir and broke his leg, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, according to the Sandy City Fire Department. He was assisted by helicopter and search and rescue.

Mike Radice, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Crews were busy helping eight lost and injured hikers and mountain bikers on a weekend filled with an unusually high number of rescues.

Officials say people should think twice before hitting the trails, about their own preparations and consider who their rescuers may be in the event of an emergency.

Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said the rescue situations not only pose the obvious threat for those in trouble, but for the volunteer search and rescue crews.

"They're volunteering their time and risking their lives to help save the lives of a stranger," Hoyal said.

The volunteers are good people who are highly trained and motivated and just want to help others, he said.

Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. Susan Poulsen said people can help keep those volunteers safe by being fully equipped before they hit the trials.

"We want to make sure the public is aware that they're not just putting themselves at risk," Poulsen said. "It's also putting our rescue personnel at risk."

Hoyal said Salt Lake County search and rescue crews responded to three incidents over the weekend — two where hikers wandered off a trail and were lost, and another incident involved a hiker who fell and injured his leg.

Besides responding to dehydrated hikers in the summertime, those who wander off trails or others who are stuck in avalanche territory, responders also deal with very tragic situations, he said.

"There's times they're ultimately responding to where people have tragically fallen and died up there," Hoyal said, "and they're having to recover deceased victims off the mountain."

Poulsen said the Davis County Sheriff's Office is grateful for the volunteers, without whom the agency wouldn't be able to offer such services.

"They work their day jobs, and they are charitable enough to offer up their time and their expertise and their talents to go up in whatever conditions they’re presented with to help look for lost persons or injured or whatever the call out may be for," she said.

Poulsen said Davis County search and rescue crews responded to an incident Friday night after a hiker wandered from a trail and was lost. The 52-year-old wasn't found until morning, when he was discovered by other hikers and brought down the mountain by helicopter.

Poulsen said the man was involved in a similar situation in May when he wandered off a trail, was lost and had to be rescued.

The county attorney has decided not to press charges against the man, she said, but the sheriff's office is looking into recovering some of the financial losses for the rescue.

"We certainly wouldn't want to deter anyone from calling," Poulsen said. "They're still weighing whether or not this is possible for any recovery financially."

As the last few days of fall approach, Hoyal said, those enjoying nature should be cautious and also prepare for the upcoming winter months. One of the biggest factors this time of year is the dropping nighttime temperatures, he said.

"There are a lot of times during the daytime it's really nice outside, and so (hikers) may not be prepared for adequate clothing to maintain themselves when it gets cold at night," Hoyal said.

He recommends people do the research before they go out so they're aware of unsafe areas; bring a cellphone with full battery power; and be prepared with proper clothing, food and water.

Poulsen said the concern for search and rescue crews, as well as those enjoying the last few days of fall, is the hourly changing conditions in the U.S. Forest Service areas.

"People need to be aware that those conditions can change very quickly. If they're not prepared, they can find themselves in a hazardous situation," she said.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar

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