County’s volunteer rescue teams raising money

EVERETT — Working the Oso mudslide has brought Snohomish County’s volunteer helicopter rescue crews into the public eye, just as the team has been struggling to stay financially afloat.

The team previously had relied on revenue from a federal timber tax that expired. Tickets to a fundraiser planned this weekend already have sold out.

About 26 of 30 people on the helicopter team are volunteers, including the rescue technicians and flight medics, said Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The volunteers are coordinating the fundraising effort at helicopterrescue.org.

The volunteers buy a lot of their own gear, and the volunteer pilots pay for their own flight training, Quistorf said. Much of their equipment also comes from federal grants.

Many of the volunteers are experienced climbers and also give time to Everett Mountain Rescue.

Hundreds of searchers have worked in the debris field near Oso. The county helicopter rescue team pulled eight people to safety that first day.

During the summer, when people are most likely to get into trouble outdoors, the team might have two or three rescues in a weekend, Quistorf said.

“That doesn’t get a lot of interest,” he said. “With this large scale, this many people affected, even in a real setting that it’s in, that really gets people’s eyes open to the effect that search and rescue can have, with trained searchers and trained rescuers, what a difference they can make.”

Earlier this month, Quistorf got the chance to talk to Gov. Jay Inslee, federal administrators and U.S. senators and other high-profile elected officials about the team’s work.

On that day, his volunteer co-pilot was Travis Hots, the chief of the Arlington Rural and Getchell fire districts who became the face of the slide response in its immediate aftermath.

The team also has been invited to help with hoist rescue training this summer for the Washington Army National Guard, Quistorf said.

In the state, only King and Snohomish counties have helicopters equipped for hoist rescues, and they get called out all over, Quistorf said.

Other helicopters are available from the federal government and the military, but they have stricter policies for when they can deploy. The team members consider themselves a regional resource, he said.

The proceeds from the fundraisers will go toward rescuers’ personal protective equipment, such as flight gear, and team supplies such as the blankets used for patients, Quistorf said.

The county council agreed to fund the team for 2014, and there’s been talk of a one-year timber tax extension, Quistorf said.

After that, it’s unknown.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Fundraiser

A fundraiser featuring Celtic rock violinist Geoffrey Castle is planned for emergency responders, including the Snohomish County helicopter rescue team, for 7 p.m. May 24 at the Stanwood High School Performing Arts Center, 7400 272nd Street NW. Tickets are $20 and sold at brownpaperticket.com or at the door.

For more information, visit the Facebook page called “Oso/Darrington Geoffrey Castle Benefit “Heroes of The Blue Stilly” Honoring First Responders.”

The fundraiser planned Saturday for Snohomish County’s search-and-rescue volunteer crews at The Mountaineers Program Center in Seattle has sold out.

More info: www.helicopterrescue.org/fundraiser

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