Editorial: Search and Rescue Team invaluable

Odds are good that you and your loved ones will never require the services of the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team. Yet it’s reassuring to know these trained volunteers are ready to help in an emergency. On numerous occasions, team members have put their jobs and personal lives on hold to search for lost hikers and hunters, missing Alzheimer’s patients, suspected victims of crimes.

They give not only their time, but as a recent county grand jury report points out, they often reach into their wallets as well.

SLO County Search and Rescue members supply their own uniforms, boots and equipment; new members can easily spend $400 to $500 getting outfitted for the job. And once they make that initial investment, they often cover the cost of out-of-town training as well.

Among other items, the county grand jury is recommending that the Board of Supervisors allocate some funds to help defray these costs.

We heartily agree that would be ideal.

Search and Rescue volunteers provide an invaluable service — their work can literally mean the difference between life and death.

On top of that, they’re saving taxpayer money. Sgt. Mark Maki, team coordinator, estimates it would cost between $1,500 to $2,000 per hour if paid staff — such as deputies or police officers — were to do the work of the 20 to 30 volunteers who typically participate in a search.

That can quickly add up; last year, the team responded to 17 requests for assistance; in 2008, it went out on 25 calls.

Clearly, dedicating county funds to equipping and training Search and Rescue volunteers is a wise investment. Yet with the county facing a $17 million shortfall, it’s not realistic to expect any more than a modest contribution, if that.

The grand jury points to fundraising, donations and sponsorships as an alternative source of revenue. The jury also emphasizes the need for more volunteers, and recommends the team recruit volunteers to specialize in fundraising, grant writing, website development and volunteer recruitment.

These are excellent ideas.

Any help from the community — be it with donations, sponsorships or volunteer hours — would be a boost, especially in this time when so many government agencies are facing cutbacks.

Ultimately, though, we strongly urge the county to build into its budget a realistic allowance for uniforms, equipment and training for this indispensable program. Not only will that be a way to acknowledge the contributions of these volunteers, it also will ensure that, should the need arise, they’ll have the training, knowledge and equipment they need to get the job done.

How to help

If you’re interested in joining the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team or would like information on how to contribute, contact Sgt. Mark Maki at 781-4616