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Santa Fe Search and Rescue
By Paul McClendon, K5PMC

New Mexico's statewide system of over 1000 Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers is recognized nationally as one of the premier SAR organization in the country and has become a model for other states to follow. There are approximately 80 recognized Search and Rescue Groups in New Mexico. These groups include ground pounders or foot search teams, horse teams, tracking dog teams, 4 wheel, ATV and snowmobile groups, technical rescue teams and, as you might suppose, communications groups.

In our area are two communication groups, the New Mexico SAR Support Group out of Albuquerque and closer to home the Los Alamos Amateur Radio Club or as it is better known, CD-1. During almost every mission in the Sangre de Cristos or Jemez Mountains you will hear CD-1 using Call sign W5PDO providing longer range communications as well as relay services from their "shack" in Los Alamos. When requested they also try to provide mobile communications in support of the Incident Base, the field operations center for a search.

Wilderness Search and Rescue in New Mexico, by state statute, has become the responsibility of the New Mexico State Police. There is one paid employee, James Newberry, who is the Search and Rescue Resource Officer. There is also a Search and Rescue Review Board, which monitors certain activities and makes recommendations to the Chief of the State Police, who has the final responsibility for all actions.

After a report of a lost or missing person is made a specially trained State Police Officer in the District determines if there is a need for a search and rescue effort rather than a for law enforcement situation. Once the decision is made to employ search and rescue, the District Dispatcher notifies the Field Coordinator who is on call for that week, who then becomes the Incident Commander (IC) of the Search and Rescue Mission. This IC will then select his Base Support staff, location for the Incident Base as well as what teams they want to initially respond.

Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group or Santa Fe SAR as it is more commonly known dates back to 1994 when Dave Burdett (W2SAR) was asked to form a Search and Rescue Group in the Eldorado area. Since those formative days the Santa Fe SAR has grown to a group of over 40 members from throughout the greater Santa Fe area.

Santa Fe SAR is composed primarily of teams of ground pounders who are equipped and able to go out for periods exceeding 24 hours in any kind of weather. In the winter this might involve teams on skis or snowshoes. Specialties in addition to the ground pounders include a Technical Rescue Team with the ropes, litter and other equipment to evacuate an injured subject in low to medium angle environments (up to 60 degree slopes). Other specialties include 4-wheel drive searching and also a food service team.

As you might expect communications and especially Amateur Radio play a big part in the search and rescue effort. In Santa Fe SAR, we now have 8 licensed HAMs and have another group of 11 who are starting to study for their no code Technician license. These soon to be Hams have seen what those of us who are Hams can do beyond the normal commercial frequency operations and have decided that Amateur Radio is for them. Some of them are thinking beyond SAR and to make serious hobby of the effort.

I'd like to be able to say that all missions start on a sunny Sunday morning and every one is home by the time "60 Minutes" is on but it does not happen that way. Most call outs are in the evening, can last all night and in any kind of weather. Since this District is comprised of Santa Fe and Los Alamos Counties our missions usually involve rough mountainous terrains therefore the need for the 4-wheel drive. Probably 75% of the missions are in the Pecos Canyon or based at the Santa Fe Ski area.

Generally, the first 12-hour operational period will prove successful and the lost person(s) will be returned to safety. However there are those occasions that require a longer effort to which a more experienced Incident Commander and Base Staff usually respond. These volunteers may come from anywhere in the state. This is where New Mexico's' Incident Command System and common radio system comes to the fore as we have the same training state wide as well as common radio frequencies. Many other states have a county-by-county SAR system that creates barriers rather than the efficiency of our statewide system. Communications plays a very important part in this statewide system and besides being able to use to some extent the State Police systems, the Amateur 2 meter repeaters around the state are used on almost every mission. This state wide system also gives SAR the direct access to other state resources such as the National Guard and their helicopters. The Search and Rescue community in this area is indebted to the Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club and its' members for the installation and maintenance of the 147.300 and 146.820 MHz repeaters. The repeaters, on Elk Mountain and Tesuque Peak, come in to play in about 80% of the missions in the Santa Fe District as well as many in the Las Vegas District.

If there was enough interest, Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club could become a recognized SAR communications resource with a call out procedure for those members interested in responding to a search mission. This would be a no cost-strictly volunteer arrangement and I might mention that any person activated is under a state insurance program. Some volunteers limit their working area to only the local District while others are willing to travel statewide. If becoming a recognized SAR resource is just not what Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club would like to do at this time, interested individuals would be welcome to join the Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group as communications specialists.

Those with an interest might contact radio club President Alden Oyer (AG5S) or either Paul McClendon (K5PMC) at 983-8748 or Steve Crawford (K5SDC) at 466-3722.

In closing Santa Fe SAR and the whole SAR community in the Santa Fe area is deeply indebted to the Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club for the construction and maintenance of the Elk Mountain and Tesuque Peak repeaters. There is no question in our mind that these repeaters have saved lives.

 

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