CCSO announces major changes to Search-Rescue ops

Clackamas County

The deadline to apply for the new SAR team is March 31st

SANDY, Ore. (KOIN) — The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office announced it will be making changes to its search and rescue operational structure in the fall, and volunteer SAR teams are worried that their crews could disappear.

Clackamas County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams respond to a fallen climber on Mt. Hood. December 30, 2019 (CCSO)

The call for help from Mount Hood has been heard time and time again, and each time, that call has been answered by search and rescue crews. They are teams like the Portland Mountain Rescue.

“We are asked to [go in] the most dangerous conditions,” said crewmember Mark Morford. “It requires extensive training.”

But more recently, volunteers from teams like Portland Mountain Rescue and Moutain Wave were surprised when they read a notice put out by Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts that said, “in the wake of recent litigation, at the recommendation of my county council, and after a comprehensive study, I decided to make these changes…”

The sheriff wants to bring SAR volunteers under one team: the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue. From there, volunteers would go through a background check and get training and have equipment provided for them. The singular group would also be a non-profit.

“There was this mutual aid agreement they wanted us to sign and we want you to come on board with our team and we want you to dissolve your own teams,” said Tricia Hewlett of the Mountain Wave Search and Rescue team. The SAR team has been around since the early 90s. “It’s been hard for us because we’ve spent time and energy on the equipment and the trust we’ve created with fellow searchers.”

The sheriff went on to say that he recognized that “change can be difficult, but it is also important that my office makes appropriate changes to address inefficiencies, mitigate risk, and ensure I am doing my very best for those we serve.”

Search and rescue members near Paradise Park Trail near Kiwanis Camp Road, Oct. 2, 2019. (Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office)

“This would be a very big change for us,” said Morford. “We want to be clear we are not trying to resist change, we just think it’s important to preserve the exert unit that PMR is for the community.”

“I don’t think they need to have us dissolve to meet the goals that they want,” said Hewlett. “They can be sending deputies to our training and evaluate our training.”

Currently, the separate SAR teams serve various communities in the region. The sheriff’s office has asked for those who want to be volunteers under the single, unified group to apply online by March 31.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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