Ready to Respond

Central Montana Search and Rescue here to help
By: 
CHARLIE DENISON
Reporter
Friday, June 7, 2019
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A helicopter from Malmstrom Air Force Base airlifts an individual from Wheatland County in 2017. The Central Montana Search and Rescue team was called to the scene.  

Photo courtesy of Ryan Peterson

The Central Montana Search and Rescue team is increasing its knowledge and skill set in hopes to better provide service to the community, come what may.

In doing so, they’ve had a busy year of trainings, and they are only getting started.

In March the group did a wildlife training, in April they did a dog training and this summer they’ll do swift water rescue (rescue involving robust water conditions), high and low angle rescue (applies to vertical terrain missions) and rope rescue (technical rescue using steel, cable, nylon, polyester, etc.).

“We are preparing as much as we can,” said Search and Rescue member Ryan Peterson.

The trainings have been informative, Peterson said, as Search and Rescue members learned a great deal about mountain lions and bears in the wildlife training.

 “Be bear aware,” said Peterson.

The dog training – instructed by a colleague of Search and Rescue member Brett Nienhuis – was also well worth the time and money.

“We learned the probability of detection using a search dog and learned the variables that come into play regarding which dog to use, how to deploy the dog and how to work with the dog,” said Peterson. “Having knowledge of what dog to use is huge for us.” 

Such trainings also help morale by getting many of the 20-plus Search and Rescue members more excited to be part of the crew, Peterson said.

This time of year, Search and Rescue is primarily concerned with getting an injured person or persons out of the backcountry safely.

“That’s one of our biggest issues to deal with,” Peterson said. “When the situation arises, we want to make sure we have the manpower to handle a large-scale search.”

Peterson said Search and Rescue members try to do their best to look out for those who need assistance. In order to do so, they try to get the best equipment available. This especially applies to vehicles.

“We are down a vehicle right now, and as a nonprofit entity, it can be challenging to raise the funds,” he said, “so that’s one of our biggest efforts right now. Much of the general fund comes out of our own pocket.”

Peterson said he appreciates donations from the community, as they enhance the program directly. For example, contributions can go toward trainings, which also increase Search and Rescue’s opportunities for outreach. The wildlife and dog trainings were particularly successful in this regard.

 “We’ve collaborated with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Sheriff’s Office, the Police Department, the Lewistown Fire Department and others,” said Peterson. “We worked with a lot of different entities, and that’s something we’re continuing to do.”

The more outreach the better, Peterson said. 

Many of these entities work together naturally, as fire and law enforcement employees often volunteer for Search and Rescue and other emergency-related services. 

“Most volunteers wear multiple hats,” Peterson said.

No matter the hat, the mission is the same, and sometimes it’s daunting. The winter can test peoples’ commitment to Search and Rescue, Peterson said, as 10 below days in the Judiths are hard to bear. Nonetheless, Search and Rescue responds.

“We want to be there for someone in their time of need,” he said. “People need help, and not everyone is willing to go out in miserable weather to help them.”

“It seems like it’s the most inconvenient time every time,” Nienhuis added, “A lot of times it’s a false alarm, but if someone is out there and they need us, we want to be there. It’s a rewarding job.”

Being a part of a successful mission means a great deal and reminds the Search and Rescue members why they do what they do.

“There was a call out this winter on a stormy subzero day,” Peterson said. “They were out there longer than anticipated. Going out there to find them was rough, but we found them, and they were OK.”

“It’s not glorious, it’s not glamorous, but it’s important,” said Nienhuis.

Nienhuis – a Central Montana Search and Rescue member for six years and Search and Rescue member for 20-plus years – is grateful for his time with the organization and hopes to see more people give it a try.

“We’re actively seeking new members,” he said.  “If you are team-oriented, like the outdoors and are available, you’d make a great Search and Rescue member.”

Getting volunteers is important, Nienhuis said, as is preventing incidents from happening in the first place. That being said, Nienhuis and Peterson have some advice for those planning on venturing into the backcountry this summer.

“Watch the weather,” Peterson said. “Have some idea of the area you are going into. Don’t go in blind if you’ve never gone into the Missouri Breaks. You want to be prepared. Also, let someone know your plan. Let them know where you’re going and when you plan on returning.”

“Make yourself as visible as possible,” Nienhuis added. “If you’re lost, stay put.”

Those interested in volunteering or donating can contact the Fergus County Sheriff’s Department at (406) 535-3415.

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