Many ways to aid county search and rescue unit

SNOHOMISH — To be a part of Snohomish County Search and Rescue, you don’t have to be an agile mountain climber.

You don’t have to be an experienced hiker. You certainly don’t have to dangle from a helicopter on a rope.

Search and Rescue needs volunteers for support services, too.

The Operations Support Unit helps with tasks such as mapping, taking notes and cooking meals, volunteer John McKeon said. The unit has responded to hundreds of missions over the years.

McKeon and his wife, Heidi, joined after their son was rescued from a 6,300-foot perch on Three Fingers Mountain in 2008.

The couple spent 20 hours at base camp waiting for news. Search and Rescue volunteers and Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies kept them company.

“It absolutely blew my mind that all of these people — it was the middle of the week — whatever they had going on, they gave up,” John McKeon said. “They weren’t paid. They were all volunteer.”

Heidi McKeon spent nearly four weeks volunteering at the scene of the March 22 Oso mudslide, John McKeon said.

The slide taught the team how quickly their resources could be tapped, he said.

Folks in the support unit ended up putting out a call on Facebook for more volunteers to run the food truck that was cooking for rescuers at the slide.

For now, some key skills needed from new volunteers include working with computers, organizing documents, speaking clearly over a radio and cooking for large groups.

The unit works out of an office on wheels, said unit president Tim Dehnhoff, a 17-year volunteer. People of all ages and abilities can join the team, he said.

“It never gets old. I never get tired of it,” he said. “I get to hang around amazing people who give of themselves.”

Even those who run businesses or have busy family lives can find a place on the team, McKeon said. Most missions last a day or two.

“Each mission you have a goal in sight,” he said. “You’re either going to bring someone’s family member home alive or you’re going to bring closure to a family.”

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

For information on volunteering with Snohomish County Search and Rescue, or making a donation, go to www.scvsar.org or call 425-388-3328. The organization works closely with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and is based at Taylor’s Landing, 5506 Old Machias Rd., Snohomish. Donations are used for equipment and gear for rescuers and to pay for operations. For the Operations Support Unit in particular, contact 425-870-1724 or go to the Facebook page.

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