Vote yes on the 15-90 search and rescue tax | Columnists

15-90 Search and Rescue Team Member

Recently, you may have received an absentee ballot with a mill levy initiative to support search and rescue operations in Silver Bow County. We humbly ask that you support the volunteers of 15-90 Search and Rescue by voting yes.

Since 1963, volunteers have done extensive search and rescue in the mountains and wilderness of not only Silver Bow but also neighboring counties as part of our pact of mutual support. We are honored to support our fellow citizens and proud of our many successful rescues. I must emphasize that we are all volunteers and other members of your community. We do this because we care about the well-being and safety of our neighbours.

An example of such research comes to mind due to the events that occurred at the end of the mission. A few years ago we were called around three in the morning to find a hiker on the verge of hypothermia. He and a few of his friends were hiking the back of the East Ridge in the early spring. They didn’t anticipate the conditions they encountered and one member of the group got completely soaked. His buddies were very worried about his health and their ability to get him out safely. They maintained contact with BSB Dispatch, started a fire and tried to dry his clothes, but he was still in distress.

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The sheriff activated us early that morning to intercept and assist them. Commander SAR Belke divided us into two search parties, one looking for an ATV route and the other on foot. I was with the soccer team, and we were the first to intercept the hikers. Although ATVs can move much faster than us, a significant portion of the trail was not accessible by either ATVs or snowmobiles. When we intercepted them, the affected hiker was borderline hypothermic with slightly blue lips. We recognized the symptoms and we knew it was bad. We gave him dry clothes, but we knew we had to get him out as soon as possible. I asked the EMT of our research team to continually assess and reassess his status upon our release.

For many reasons, people are recreating farther into the backcountry. We also need to have the gear, equipment and training to find them. Whether it’s a GPS or a mountain bike, the member pays with his own money.

Other than charitable donations from local business leaders throughout the year, our only fundraiser is the day we take over the intersection of Dewey and Harrison with our buckets. The people in this community have been incredibly generous, and it’s humbling to receive that from our neighbors. For me, it is a feeling of pride to be able to count on donations and not on taxpayers. However, the reality is that I can afford to buy new boots, quality clothes and electronic equipment. For a potential member with a young family, shelling out a few hundred dollars for a GPS device to support search and rescue might be a lot more difficult. We can also lose potential members because they cannot commit financially. I firmly believe that this levy could be the key to our survival as a search and rescue organization.

For the most part, members buy their personal equipment, clothing and ATVs/snowmobiles. They also buy their own gasoline, take vacations or personal days, and let their families do the research. Most of our training is provided “in-house” because we do not have the means to send people to take courses outside.

How does the hiker’s story end? After meeting the ATVs, he rode the bottom while we were hiking. The hiker’s wife and young children met them at our command trailer with dry clothes. We saw a family extremely happy to see their father and husband return safe and sound. I remember thinking it could have been a very different meeting. This time it was a happy ending. Please help make sure there are many more like this and please vote YES for factory tax.

Brandon D. James