Behind The Badge: Search & rescue commander saves people from outdoor danger and helps Utah battle COVID-19

Behind the Badge

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Erik Bornemeier knows all too well that the harsh weather and terrain of Utah can be just as deadly as the Coronavirus. As a Technical Sergeant for the Utah National Guard and a 1st Vice Commander for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team he takes on both threats head on.

Since May, Sgt. Bornemeier has directed the Utah National Guard’s Mobile Testing Operations Team, deploying troops and resources throughout the state to find COVID-19 hotspots. Just like his role with the Rescue Team, it’s all about getting trained personnel in the right place with the right equipment.

“I’ve got 150 airmen and soldiers out there every day fighting COVID almost in the exact same way as I run them up the mountain,” Sgt. Bornemeier told Behind The Badge. “I’m able to use the same expertise and training here.”

The California native and health educator estimate he’s been involved in 880 rescues in his 18 years as a volunteer with the Sheriff’s Office Rescue Team.

“We’re bringing people home,” he said. “We’re connecting and reuniting families.”

He’ll never forget some of those rescues, like one last year when an evening storm capsized three kayakers in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.

“When we got called out at two in the morning to the marina at Antelope Island, we were all anticipating a body recovery,” Bornemeier said.

One of the kayakers was able to make it to the shore despite crashing 10-foot waves.

“We found the second person and we were able to recover them through hoist with the (Department of Public Safety) helicopter,” he said.

The third kayaker was struggling in the water with no life jacket.

“He was literally just going under so the State Parks boat and the DPS helicopter converged. We pulled him up out of the water at the last minute,” he said. “Another hour and he would have probably been under the water…What started as doom and gloom ended up being hours of nail-biting drama that had a happy ending.”

Another time, he raced up Farmington Canyon and helped guide a helicopter to a stranded skier who was freezing to death as an approaching snowstorm closed in.

“We had 25 minutes max from the airport to the patient to get this done or else the helicopter would be stuck up the mountain,” Bornemeier recalled. “So this was like last second stuff and I’ve got a patient who’s dying of hypothermia and within 25 minutes we were able to get that helicopter up and in a hover, pull that patient up from the snow and get them back to the hospital to warm up…He’s alive because of that effort.”

All in a days’ work for Sgt. Bornemeier who says the luckiest person in all of these stories is him.

“It’s a badge of honor to be able to serve,” he said. “I find peace through service and so that’s how I fill my tanks and that’s how I become a better person.”

Sgt. Bornemeier will remain with the Search and Rescue Team but his National Guard Mobile Testing Operations Team is temporary. He tells Behind The Badge he’ll miss them when he shuts down that operation but that will be a good day because it will mean the COVID-19 threat in Utah is over.

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