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Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue responded to 115 calls in 2020 and spent a combined 5,419 hours helping people get to safety, according to its annual report released earlier this month.

In 2020, 170 active SAR volunteers responded to 38 searches, 72 rescues, 5 mutual aid calls where volunteers assisted other agencies and 5 calls that weren’t categorized. Helicopters were used in 20 of those calls, and volunteers collectively responded 1,433 times and spent a combined 4,028 hours training.

That’s pretty similar to the amount of calls SAR responded to and the amount of hours it spent on calls the year prior, said search and rescue commander Capt. Scott Secor.

“In the spring, summer and fall, the calls that we received were very in line with what we normally see,” Secor said. “On paper, 2019 and 2020 were very indistinguishable.”

According to the 2019 annual report, 158 active SAR volunteers responded to 108 calls: 42 searches, 62 rescues, 16 mutual aid calls and 4 uncategorized calls. Of those 108 calls, helicopters were used 23 times. Volunteers responded collectively 1,367 times and spent 5,456 hours on calls and 4,446 hours training.

In late 2020 and early 2021, the volume of calls related to snowmobiling began to rise compared to the number of calls during the same period in late 2019 and early 2020. There’s no solid reason why, Secor said, though the “working theory” is that more people are recreating outside compared to years past, potentially because of the pandemic.

Even though the volume of calls and hours spent training and on calls were very similar, Secor said every call is different.

“There are no routine missions,” he said. “Every mission is its own challenge and its own unique set of parameters that have to be met and sought out and addressed differently than any other mission.”

Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue is unique because of the amount of specialized volunteers it has, Secor said.

To be able to respond to the kinds of situations that happen in and around the Gallatin Valley, the search and rescue team includes volunteers who do water rescue, ice-climbing rescue, rock-climbing rescue, a helicopter team, a dog team, a swiftwater team for rescues during the snow-runoff season — when rivers are high, fast and cold.

The team includes skiers, climbers, snowmobilers, 4 wheel riders and even a diving team, though deep-water searches are uncommon.

“We really do cover the whole gamut,” Secor said. “We have some incredible teams that do a lot of things that other teams in the country aren’t capable of doing. We’re very lucky to have the caliber of volunteer (that we do).”

Secor and Administrative Assistant Erin Metzger, who compiled and wrote the 2020 annual report, are two of only three paid employees who are part of the search and rescue team. All of the remaining 170 are volunteers who sacrifice their time to be part of the team and drop what they’re doing to respond to emergencies.

There were 12 more volunteers in 2020 compared to the year prior, and Secor said that’s in part because SAR is getting better at getting its name out there.

“Especially now that Erin has come on board, we’ve really gotten on social media more … and just get our names out there so the public can see what it is that their tax money is being spent on,” he said. “I think because of that we’re starting to see an influx of people wanting to volunteer and get on our team.”

More information on the Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue Team, as well as information about volunteering with the team, can be found on the SAR website, https://gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net/search-and-rescue.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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