Utah County Search and Rescue trains for water safety as heat hits triple-digit temperatures

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UTAH COUNTY (ABC4 News) – As the heat hit triple-digit temperatures this week, Utah County Sheriff’s Office is expecting an increase in water rescue calls. Their Search and Rescue team headed out to Utah Lake for water rescue training and invited ABC4 News to come along.

All of the 50 to 55 people on UCSO’s Search and Rescue team are volunteers, some who said they’ve spent holidays away from family to assist on a call.

“They’re very devoted and selfless. They give their time, energy, all that to really helping the community and doing it for free,” said UCSO Search and Rescue Training Sergeant Brandon Carter. “We probably average 300 to 400 volunteers hours a year. It’s a big time commitment.”

They said the need for training is constant because of the multiple scenarios they could be exposed to. Deputies said they receive some of the highest amounts of calls in the state because of their county’s terrain – with the Wasatch Mountains to the east and Utah Lake to the left.

In 2018, UCSO received 96 search and rescue calls – 8 of which involved the recovery of a body and 2 that were drownings. The total bill from last year’s calls came to about $30,000, some of which was reimbursed by the state, but most was taken on by the sheriff’s office. Officials said the cost is never passed along to those who are rescued.

“The main reason, and Sheriff Smith feels strongly about this, is we don’t ever want anybody who needs help, which could literally save their life, to think, ‘You know what, I’m not going to call, because I don’t want to have to pay,'” said UCSO Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

Officials said the job of a Search and Rescue team member is demanding. Crews know every second counts when a life is on the line, meaning they have to act quickly. They must stay in good physical shape and be prepared mentally for anything they might see. 

“Sometimes, our rescues don’t always end well and we end up with a body recovery or something like that. Those are pretty hard,” said Carter.

But Carter said what makes it all worth it are the rewarding days when someone makes it home safe and sound.

“The rescues that end in a good outcome are awesome. You get to save somebody’s life or help somebody in need,” he said.

When engaging in water recreation activities, officials offer the following tips:

  • Be conscious of your environment. If it looks like a storm is rolling in, stay off the water.
  • Always wear life jackets when going into the water.
  • Have a buddy system. Don’t go out into the water alone. 
  • Don’t let the warm water fool you. You can still get hypothermia if you stay out in the water for too long.
  • Think before you jump. Before you take that leap, check the water for depth and debris.

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