ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — As tourists continue to flood the St. George area, search and rescue crews in Washington County say they’re trying to “hang on” as calls for help continue to surge.
Sgt. Darrell Cashin, liaison of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, tells ABC4 News “a solution is becoming urgent.” His 70 volunteers, all with full-time jobs, have already responded to 152 call-outs, which are coming every couple of days on average. Recently, their crews responded to 26 call-outs in a span of 35 days. As the year has gone, Cashin says he’s now seeing a significant drop in the number of rescuers able to respond to each call, particularly in the past 30-60 days.
“It’s not that they’re unwilling. They are very willing,” Cashin said. “It’s just due to how much time they’ve taken off earlier this year, how many times their bosses are willing to let them leave or how many times they’re able to shut down their businesses to come help.”
Cashin anticipates at least 165 rescues by the end of the year and that calls will continue to increase each year as the area continues to surge in population and tourism. He says he’s looking at several different plans to soon compensate his volunteers.
One of the options is using the transient room tax, a revenue source based on the large number of tourists; but, due to the current class size of Washington County, Cashin says there is currently no access to those funds. He is working alongside local legislators to hopefully change that during the upcoming session.
“So hopefully, we can have some sort of an access to help financially with all the people that are coming here and all the strain it’s putting on our search and rescue,” Cashin said.
This year alone, 60% of those needing to be rescued were not from Washington County, according to Cashin. He estimates his volunteers are saving taxpayers at least $1 million each year in wages and benefits alone.
For now, he is asking both locals and tourists to go prepared when exploring the outdoors. He says having enough water or bringing a light jacket in case of an emergency could have likely prevented a number of calls. That said, he wants to make it clear that anyone who needs help should reach out.
“We will come,” Cashin said. “Next time, you might just get a few deputies, firefighters or EMS with some search and rescue members, but we will get the job done.”
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