Hiking Safety

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TUCSON, Ariz.  — With scenic views and an amazing variety of ecosystems within a short walk, Tucson is known for its hiking.

As with any recreational activity, there are risks with hiking.  Especially in Tucson, the heat and the terrain can be very unforgiving at times.  Even being prepared with everything going right, accidents can still happen. 

This happened to a gentleman who was visiting Tucson Oct. 21, 2015. He was hiking one of Tucson’s most beautiful and grueling trails, Blackett’s Ridge, when he injured his ankle to the point where he couldn’t walk and called 911.  

Most people don’t realize that ambulance crews can’t always respond to your exact location in the wilderness. 

That’s where I come in.  I am a volunteer with the Southern Arizona Rescue Association.  If you get hurt or lost in the vast wilderness of Pima County, we answer the call.  SARA receives notification from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department that assistance is needed and its members respond. 

SARA was notified about this particular call around lunchtime. After arriving at the trailhead, we received our task from the Deputy and Operations Chief and started on our way.  Two other SARA members and I were the third group to begin and we were tasked with hiking up and helping carry gear to the patient.

As I mentioned before, this is one of the most grueling trails in Tucson. It gains 1,500 feet of elevation in about a mile.  It’s almost like a rock staircase. 

As rescue technicians, we carry a pack that weighs around 35-40 pounds, in addition to rescue gear, which weighs about another 18 pounds. 

Once we arrived to the patient, we made sure his injury was properly splinted and carried him down. 
Again, this was a very steep trail, and because of the midday timing of this particular call out, we didn’t have many people show up. The timing also meant that we didn’t have many people to rotate carrying the patient. 

Because of the steep terrain, we attached a line to the rescue basket to help ensure the patient had a smooth descent. We carried him all the way down without incident, and transferred him to a waiting ambulance.

This rescue was just one example of the many that I have assisted.  In some cases we’ve utilized horses, dogs and even aircraft to help find or care for the patient(s). 

As an Airman and NCO, I am able to use the skills the Air Force has given me to help people within our awesome local community. 

In two years of volunteering with SARA, I’ve participated in 34 missions totaling 123 hours helping 48 people and five dogs return safely to their families. In addition, I’ve dedicated another 308 hours to technical and medical training. It’s also allowed me to meet some of the best people in Tucson: my fellow volunteers and search and rescue deputies.
This type of volunteer work is by no means easy as it requires dedication and sacrifice.  I could not have done it without the support of my wife, children and squadron.

Tucson is a beautiful place and people should get out there to see it; just stay safe and be smart.  Know that if something does go wrong out in the wilderness, there are great volunteers willing and able to help you out of a bad situation.

If you interested in helping or want to know more about SARA, visit the website at sarci.org/sara/.