The Search and Rescue team of the Grant County Sheriff’s Office has had a busy winter.
In December, the group responded to six incidents, locating an overdue woodcutter and snowmobiler, a motorist stuck in the snow, an overdue hunter and an injured hunter.
On Dec. 6, SAR located the body of a missing hiker who was new to the area. The call to find Lucas Cavalle came Dec. 4 after he’d already been missing overnight in subzero temperatures near Fields Peak, west of Mt. Vernon.
Deputy Dave Dobler was hired on in August as the SAR coordinator and as a part-time forest patrol deputy for Grant County, working under Sheriff Glenn Palmer.
“For this size of a community, I think people would be stunned by the number of incidents that occur,” Dobler said.
He brings a wide range of experience to his work in search and rescue and law enforcement, including several years with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office where he was an SAR coordinator and training officer. He also spent time there as a canine supervisor, forest patrol officer, arson investigator and SWAT team member, he said.
His work history, dating back to 1982, includes stints with the Port of Portland Police and, later, Portland Police Bureau, working as a fraud and identity theft investigator. Most recently, Dobler was a deputy and undersheriff and SAR coordinator at the Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office.
His work as the local coordinator includes administrative duties, such as reporting on the unit’s missions, including how they deployed, and evaluations once incidents conclude. He also submits state reports, summarizing personnel hours and how far a missing person was located from the point last seen.
While he is usually manning the incident command post for most missions, Dobler is also on the ground for some searches.
As busy as they’ve been, he said they are seeking more SAR members.
They have a roster of about 25 volunteers, with about a third of those active and another third as active as work will allow, he said.
He added there are many different parts to keeping the search and rescue running — more than just strong hikers who search in brutal weather conditions.
“Resource management is a big part of SAR — making the most of limited resources,” Dobler said.
He said people who work in the background, including those who operate radios, shuttle people around and bring food supplies, play an important role.
“It’s a good team to be on,” he said. “It’s nice to work together and see the fruits of your labor and be able to help people in the community.”
He said SAR teams are tight and, when they operate as a unit, are more than the sum of all their parts.
“It’s kind of a synergy,” he said. “It doesn’t take too many missions where you’ve helped someone or saved a life to be hooked.”
He said regular trainings are improving, and the group is working more closely with Grant County Air Search and ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service), planning a coordinated training mission in the spring.
There are also people who provide help with their ATVs, UTVs and snowmobiles.
Others giving specialized assistance include Cindy Lemcke, who owns two search and rescue dogs. Gabby is a long-haired German shepherd trained in scent-specific trail, which means she can search for a specific individual. Mr. Oak is a 6-month-old German shepherd and Dutch shepherd mix in training. Kim Kell, also an SAR member, helps Lemcke train the dogs.
“(Gabby) doesn’t have to follow every footstep a missing person left,” Lemcke said. “She’s trained to follow the scent, so her goal is to get to the missing person the closest and fastest way.”
SAR members deploy when a rescue is needed, and they also spend time educating the public on safety measures to avoid sticky, even dangerous, situations.
Dobler said they are planning a Lucas Cavalle Initiative, reaching out at snowparks and trailheads with basic safety tips as well as sharing information with local students and community groups who would like training tips and techniques.
Some of these safety tips include:
• Use the buddy system when exploring. Don’t hike or snowmobile alone.
• Let someone know your travel plans, and if those plans change, notify them.
• Prepare for the conditions, such as winter travel.
• Keep emergency supplies, including blankets, flashlight, batteries, food, water, proper clothing and fire starting materials.
• Travel with a full tank of fuel.
• Know how to use a map and compass.
• Know how to make a fire.
• Carry a strobe light or a brightly colored military signal tarp or panel, which helps Air Search locate missing people.
• Consider purchasing a satellite-based emergency locator device.
Dobler said when Cavalle went missing, temperatures dipped to a minus 12 degree windchill.
“Unless you have training and the mindset and the right equipment, your chance of survival is low,” he said. “Mindset is your biggest tool — keep your head in the game and don’t panic.”
People, ages 18 and up, interested in volunteering for SAR can pick up an application at the sheriff’s office. Volunteers need to have a good driving record and the process includes a questionnaire, interview and background check. For more information, call the sheriff’s office at 541-575-1131.