Washington County SAR: 129 rescues in 2019 a ‘new normal’ as area grows rapidly

Southern Utah

HURRICANE (ABC4 News) –In 2019 so far, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (SAR) has responded to 129 rescues, five of which occurred in the past 10 days.

While there were a record-breaking 132 rescues in 2018, Sgt. Darrell Cashin of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said there could be a few more before the year ends, adding that these alarmingly high numbers are now a “new normal.”

Washington County Sheriff’s officials told ABC4 News a full-time search and rescue team with 8-12 personnel trained in each type of rescue, including high angle, dive, and K9, would cost taxpayers more than $1 million each year. As Southern Utah continues to grow rapidly, Sgt. Cashin said it’s something they’ll need to consider in coming years to keep up with the high demand.

“We actually had quite a few deaths concerning water in the beginning of the year,” Cashin said. “As that water went away, we started getting more of the ATV rollovers, the mountain bike crashes, the people who are injured or lost while hiking, which takes over in the middle of the summer into the fall; this year, I would say we had quite a bit more of the hiking rescues.”

He said his 67 volunteers have worked 3984 manhours on search and rescues alone, not to mention the 3464 manhours devoted to training.

“My volunteers have really stepped up to it, making sure they’re able to respond, and I can’t give them enough accolades for everything they do,” Cashin said. “I always know that I can pick up that phone and set off a page, and I will get a group of 8 to 15 people that will come to rescue somebody who’s injured or lost.”

In the past 10 days, first responders have handled five major SARs: saving a man who tried to hang himself on top of a cliff above Sullivan Virgin River Soccer Park in Washington City, helping a man stuck in a backhoe up in the Kolob Mountains, rescuing hikers stranded in Snow Canyon State Park as well as trails in Hurricane, and responding to a family of four whose ATV rolled over at Sand Hollow State Park.

“I’ve found as an average it’s around $500 for a three-hour rescue, but as time goes on and you have more manpower, it becomes more difficult,” Cashin said. “If you need to call additional resources, it can run into the thousands really quickly.”

Sgt. Cashin said he doesn’t consider finances when he’s rescuing someone, despite his annual county budget of $45,000. While Sheriff’s officials can ask the state for reimbursement from money that comes from ATV, UTV, and boater and fishing registrations, emergency crews said they rely heavily on civic groups and businesses to donate to pay for extra training and equipment. Additionally, the public can purchase SAR cards to support volunteers. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said it doesn’t believe in charging people who need to be rescued.

“If we were to charge people for rescues, they’re sitting up there, they’re cold, they’re lost, and they’re afraid to call out of fear that they can’t afford a rescue; it could end up costing people their lives,” Cashin said.

Officials with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said they’re now anticipating anywhere from 120 to 130 rescues each year. In the five to ten years, Sgt. Cashin said he’s hoping for a hybrid search and rescue team, hiring several full-time staff members to assist along with volunteers.

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