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Lifesaving Volunteers – Missoula County Search And Rescue

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The men and women who put their lives at risk in all weather and in dangerous conditions with Missoula County Search and Rescue all share one important quality…they’re all volunteers.

Unit Chief Joe Blattner took time this week to share the story of Missoula County Search and Rescue, just days after deploying to a wilderness area west of Missoula to find a missing hiker.

“We’re a non-profit, volunteer organization that has been in existence in Missoula since the 1950’s,” Blattner began. “We have teachers, bankers, retired people, a very far reaching group of individuals. We work very closely with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, and we are activated by the sheriff’s office for a search and rescue operation to find a missing person, to go find evidence, or even recover a body.”

Blattner said SAR (Search and Rescue) is funded by a grant from Missoula County that began in 2006.

“Annually, we get from $55,000 to $60,000 a year which we use towards our specialized equipment,” he said. “Things like pickup trucks, our radio equipment, ATV’s, snowmobiles, medical supplies, high-angle rope rescue equipment. We have boats for water rescue, and those are some of the bigger items that we have to purchase.”

Blattner said medical response is an important aspect of SAR.

“We have a medical director and a non-transport license, which means we have a number of people who are medically trained to respond to an emergency,” said Blattner. “Out of our 29 members, we currently have 13 EMT’s, two paramedics, two advanced EMT’s, and the medical director. When have assignments in the field, we typically send at least one medically licensed individual as part of each team that’s deployed.”

SAR team members receive vigorous regular and specialized training.

“We have an extensive and regular calendar for training,” he said. “Every fourth Monday, we will do a nightly training, typically geared for the season we’re in. Then, every two or three months we have a weekend training that again, is season dependent. We also have professional level training every year. Once every three years, our members will get high-angle rope rescue technician-level certifications. The following year our members are eligible to enroll in a swift-water rescue technician course, and then in the third year, members will receive an avalanche level one certification.”

Blattner said when it comes to notifying authorities of a missing person, sooner is always better than later.

If a member of the public is aware of a missing person, contact 9-1-1 or the sheriff’s office early,” he said. “Sometimes people have waited for hours before contacting us, so the sooner we can get involved, the better. If we are contacted early, we can get everything ready and be on stand-by mode, so that members can start to get ready. So, when people think someone is missing, let us know early. We’d rather have more information than less.”

The woman who was lost while hiking near Ch-Paa-Qn Peak was found unharmed, that’s to the volunteers with Missoula County Search and Rescue.

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