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Search and Rescue mission volume increases for fourth consecutive year

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Annual missions have increased steadily since 2018, breaking a typical trend of regression after three years. GRAPHIC COURTESY OF GCSSAR

Capt. Scott Secor praises volunteers 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

On Jan. 17, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue released their 2022 annual report, containing interactive maps showing location of rescues by month, photos and videos, safety recommendations and annual statistics. 

According to the report’s introduction, mission volume increased for the fourth consecutive year, the longest streak in GCSSAR history. Total missions also increased for the second year in a row with 140, making this the most demanding year for SAR volunteers in Gallatin County history. The amount of training commitments increased for volunteers, and the report states that 2022 saw “an overall professionalization of our all-volunteer organization,” supported by new equipment and resources.  

“Although winter is slow in the Gallatin Valley, West Yellowstone is slammed with snowmobiles and cross-country skiing,” the report stated. “Big Sky is our catch all area, where [rescues] stay pretty steady throughout all seasons.” 

Capt. Scott Secor, who has been paid to run the entire operation since September 2020, expressed overwhelming praise for his program’s 157 volunteers.  

“I don’t think words can accurately describe how much appreciation we actually have for the volunteers,” Secor told EBS. “They are the backbone of the operation. We give them the tools and logistics, but on the front side is them doing all the heavy lifting, going into the field and rescuing complete strangers.” 

Secor called his volunteers the most selfless people he’s ever met—his career began in the military—and said SAR volunteers drop the fork at dinner time and leave weddings when the pager sounds. Especially for volunteers with families, he said it’s a huge sacrifice.  

The report states that volunteers “dropped what they were doing to go help someone” 1,473 times in 2022.  

“I’ve never seen a higher quality of individual than our volunteers,” he said, adding that he focuses on showing appreciation year-round. 

“[SAR volunteers] don’t get paid, but make no mistake, we are very professional.” 

‘We rescue more locals than visitors’ 

Secor pointed out that many of the rescues in 2022 were not visitors from warmer states, unfamiliar with local hazards and terrain. He said it’s easy to assume an emergency is the result of poor or uninformed decisions, but the majority of missions are called on slip or fall incidences, leading to an unfortunate bad day.  

“One of the things that we learned is that accidents can happen to some of the most skilled and experienced people,” he said. “The truth is we rescue more locals than visitors.” 

Considering that many volunteers are not native to Gallatin County, and are compelled to explore “this perfect Mecca of backcountry space” for the same reasons as visitors, Secor said “the golden rule” is part of his team’s culture. Born in Bozeman, Secor said he doesn’t blame people for moving here, and that his team takes pride in lending a hand and teaching backcountry safety.  

Regardless of who volunteers are responding to, Secor said they keep a positive outlook and empathy toward the victim on what is often their worst day.  

“It’s incredibly fulfilling. It’s rewarding work, you can actually have an impact on someone’s life. We can say, ‘Today I saved someone’s life,’ quite often.” 

Secor is also proud that rescues are completed free of charge.  

Rescues by category of first response. GRAPHIC COURTESY OF GCSSAR

The annual report listed two main takeaways for Gallatin County explorers: 

“[First], accidents can happen to anyone, anywhere, and anytime – your preparedness for those accidents will dictate your experience in the backcountry, and [second], these volunteers and their time are invaluable. While they get to respond to beautiful locations using some fun equipment, they are often responding to someone’s worst day, possibly someone’s last day, and sometimes to a friend or teammate.   

“Their dedication is strong and while ‘thank you’ will never be enough, we hope the community continues to support them, from near and far, as their calling to help runs deep and the mission is never complete,” the report states.  

Secor also encouraged Gallatin County citizens to consider joining SAR. 

“You get to put hands on a soul and help bring them home to their loved ones,” he said in summary of the biggest reward to volunteers.  

Big Sky Section volunteers stand by during the February 2022 skijoring event in Town Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF GCSSAR

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