A lifelong passion for helping led 76-year-old Snohomish to search and rescue

SNOHOMISH, Wash. – At 10 p.m. on May 7, 2016, a call came in to Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue (SCVSAR) asks for volunteers at the Lake Blanca Trailhead in Washington State’s North Cascade Mountains. The glacier-fed lake was the destination of a group of teenagers who headed out on the trail earlier in the day, but at 9 p.m. when the group gathered at the trailhead, an 18-year-old woman years had disappeared.

The call came from the 911 dispatch and more than 100 professional volunteers deployed. With them was 76-year-old Larry Warner, who would operate the VHF radios from the command truck. The search continued through the night and temperatures dropped to below 40 degrees. Searchers from the mountain rescue, helicopter, K-9 and horseback riding teams put their meticulous training into action as they navigated the treacherous, snowy terrain.

Around noon on May 8, Mother’s Day, a call came on the radio with news: They had found her.

“When she came out of the woods, I almost lost my mind,” Warner said through tears, “Here’s Mom, Mother’s Day, and we gave her daughter back to her. That’s why I do.

Warner came to search and rescue late in life, but helping has always been a passion, ever since he was a young man working in a grease spoon in his hometown of Newton, Iowa.

“I enjoy serving people,” he says, “So I made great burgers and served great coffee.”

Warner was drafted into the Navy in 1968, where he operated a nuclear power plant aboard the USS Sturgeon off the coast of Connecticut. After leaving the Navy in 1977, Warner landed a job with Fluke, an electronics company, and spent the next 30 years traveling the country and the world – 45 countries including Italy, China, Arabia Saudi Arabia and Egypt – for sale electronics. In 1997, Warner, along with his 54-year-old wife, Sheila, and their son, moved to the Pacific Northwest.

Immediately, he began to seek to build a community. He asked his colleague, State Senator John Lovick, who previously held several positions in Snohomish County government, what kind of volunteer opportunities existed in the town. Lovick was candid, saying, “Call me when you retire.”

In January 2009, Warner did just that.

Lovick told Warner about the sheriff’s office’s Citizen Patrol unit, and in May 2009, Warner was scouring the streets for stolen and illegally parked cars. At the same time, he served with the Snohomish County Community Health Center where he helped establish three free medical and dental clinics, and he volunteered with Cocoon Housethe only social service agency serving homeless teenagers in Snohomish County, where he mentored a 16-year-old boy and helped him achieve his dream of becoming a flight attendant.

In 2014, during a routine mail delivery with Citizen Patrol, Warner visited SCVSAR headquarters. He entered the building and was immediately struck by the enthusiasm of the volunteers.

“What I saw were people who loved what they were doing, but had no business acumen,” he says with a cheeky smile. So the career salesman, with a bachelor’s degree in business management he earned when he was 52, rushed to help.

“I see the need,” Warner says, “so I tell people I’m here, and I’m going to help you.”

What many may not know is that search and rescue volunteers offer their services to those in need. free, so that no one should ever hesitate to call for help. However, this means that the team relies on grants and donations to finance the purchase and maintenance of its supplies and buildings.

“It takes a certain type of person to convince you that I have a very good reason for you to give me your money,” Warner says. With expertise in that exact skill, Warner launched a donor management system and began contributing heartbreaking stories recapping recent assignments for the annual appeal letter. He became the SCVSAR Account Manager in 2021.

In 2018, Warner helped coordinate the donation and renovation of a retired Taco Bell food truck to help ensure rescuers in the field have high-quality, high-calorie food ready to refuel. after a mission.

“When I get back to the trailhead, I’m so grateful to have food to fuel me to get back out there or go home,” says Donnie Pingrey, 35, a team member from Everett Mountain Rescue. After completing what he remembers as one of the toughest missions of his search and rescue career, Pingrey describes eating his plate of steak and potatoes as “a heavenly experience”.

In 2020, Warner and a few other volunteers launched the SCVSAR Drone Team, expanding the team’s available resources to include enhanced visual aid, infrared cameras, trackers, and range finders. He bought his first drone out of pocket for $2,000 to familiarize himself with the technology. Thanks to community donations, Warner and his team have since been able to purchase a higher quality drone that has dual HD cameras with infrared and night vision, 200x zoom and Smart Track technology.

“Drones are a tool that gives us the information we need, so we can prepare for success,” says Andrea Talbot, 48, of the Everett Mountain Rescue Team. Talbot says the drones have been particularly useful in visually marking out the ground in front of the team, saving them manpower and increasing the amount of ground they can cover.

And Warner does not stop there: he contacted companies like Elon Musk Stellar Link, whose satellite dishes could bring the Internet to remote research locations, and AT&T, whose technology could turn a drone into a cellphone tower. Also in the works: tracking wristbands – normally worn by dementia patients prone to wandering off course – that could be worn by individual volunteers, and LIDAR monitoring, which could help drone cameras penetrate the thick canopy. trees.

Whether it’s serving burgers, selling electronics, teaching a teenager to drive or how to operate radios, Warner’s compassion and business acumen guide him as he works to help those around him. He admits he didn’t see himself as part of volunteer search and rescue before, saying: “I didn’t see myself flying helicopters or pushing off cliffs.” But, SAR needed Warner in a different way.

“I didn’t plan for it, but I was ready for it,” says Warner. “And there are plenty of good jobs out there if you’re not looking for a paycheck.”

Brandon D. James