Mon, August 13, 2007
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The Southern Arizona Rescue Association is almost 50 years old, and one of its rescues was in 1999, when association members helped a hiker with an injured ankle near Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon. Group members undergo extensive training.
Ben Kirkby / Arizona daily star 1999
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Tucson Region

S. Arizona's rescuers up to the challenge

By Alexis Huicochea
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.13.2007
As a member of the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, Cathy Wasmann has responded to more than 500 calls over the last 20 years about hikers lost, stranded or injured in the wilderness.
She along with countless others grab their hiking shoes, gear and medical supplies and head out on search and rescue missions that can last a couple of hours or a couple of days.
But Wasmann and the other members of SARA do not get paid for their efforts, which are strenuous not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. They volunteer their time saving others who get into trouble.
"Almost every weekend, people get lost or are in need of assistance in our mountains," said Brian Duffy, president of the rescue association. "We have nearly a million people here in the Tucson area and have very wild wilderness that's only a 45-minute drive from the city. It's easy for people to go out and get overwhelmed by the environment."
That's where the members of SARA come in. On average, they get called out 100 times a year, mostly to conduct operations in the Santa Catalina Mountains, such as their mission the weekend before last at Seven Falls after a flash flood.
Members of SARA undergo extensive medical and technical training before they are qualified to participate in field operations. Everyone must hold current certifications in outdoor emergency care and CPR for the professional rescuer.
Field-qualified members also participate in courses and field-based training in all aspects of search and rescue techniques, including vertical mountain rescue, desert and mountain search, flood and river rescue, cave rescue and mine rescue.
Their medical and technical qualifications are continually upgraded through regular monthly training as well as additional classes.
Members also must supply their own personal equipment.
"Time management is an issue," said Wasmann, who during the day works at the University of Arizona in plant pathology with the department of plant sciences. "I'm putting as many hours into SARA as I do into my job.
"There are endless committee meetings and trainings. Call-outs are really a small amount of the time with SARA."
But like all the other members, Wasmann prefers the missions over the behind-the-scenes work.
"I have had a lifelong interest in hiking, rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits," she said. "With SARA, there's no script for what we do. It's a few minutes of managing the situation and using our skills to work together and make the rescue. It can be challenging at times, but I find that to be a positive."
For Duffy, the organization president, one of the most challenging missions he has been involved with in his seven years with SARA was the rescue at Seven Falls Aug. 4 where dozens of hikers were stranded by floodwaters and two were killed.
In addition to finding and recovering the two bodies, the operation involved loading surviving hikers into helicopters and even walking some out of the area on alternate routes.
One of those hikers, 14-year-old Casey Belford, said he is grateful that SARA members are willing to donate their time to help people like him and his friends in hazardous situations.
"I was talking to one of the guys who was leading us out of the canyon, asking about their job and what the pay is like, and they said they don't get paid, that they do it for free," said the soon-to-be Rincon High School freshman. "I think it's really cool, because they could be somewhere else sitting down watching TV, but they are helping us."
● Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 629-9412 or