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Gallatin County is located in a hub of a four-season activity mecca. Outdoor and backcountry enthusiasts have recreational opportunities at their fingertips that other communities can only dream of. The old saying used to be “drive for 10 minutes in any direction” and you would find yourself in the solitude of the wilderness. Drive times have changed with population growth, but our pristine backcountry continues to surround us.

An element of backcountry use that has not changed with time is the element of risk. Every time a person ventures into the wilderness there is potential for a good day to go bad. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, extreme weather, or inherent risk of the activity itself, there is no shortage of backcountry injuries or folks getting lost. In Gallatin County there is a specialized group of volunteers with the skill set to help those in the backcountry should an emergency arise.

Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue (GCSSAR) is a division of the Sheriff’s Office with three full-time paid positions and 145 volunteers. GCSSAR is a mill levy funded, no-charge service provided to citizens and visitors of Gallatin County. GCSSAR does not charge for rescues as studies have shown that a delay in asking for help out of a concern for cost ultimately increases the cost, as delayed missions are often more difficult and expensive. We would end up with the same number of missions; they would just take place later at night and in worse conditions. GCSSAR customers, who are mostly locals, are simply good people who had an accident or got lost.

There are three sections of GCSSAR. The Valley section (based in Bozeman), Big Sky section, and West Yellowstone section. Each section has its own unique geographical challenges and a group of highly trained volunteers to respond. GCSSAR also has five specialty teams that work with all three sections as well as outside agencies that request our help. The specialty teams are the Dive Team, Dog Team, Drones, Helicopter Team, and the Communications Team.

GCSSAR responds to over 100 calls for service a year, which is double that of the next highest call volume Search and Rescue organization in the state. Last year our volunteers dropped what they were doing, left the dinner table, woke up in the middle of the night, or said goodbye to their families 115 times to help a complete stranger. Our volunteers love the backcountry and are avid users, so they understand its attraction — and its danger. Keeping that in mind, they participated in 127 different training sessions to ensure they are performing at the highest level to mitigate risk and decrease response times.

GCSSAR has learned the most difficult missions are ones where the injured or lost party is by themselves. Having a friend go along for the adventure greatly increases the chance for a successful outcome. A friend is a second source for medical supplies, tools, food, water, and communication with emergency services. A friend can help guide GCSSAR to the patient and is a source of support and comfort while waiting for rescue. A personal locator beacon or satellite messenger is a piece of gear worthy of consideration which exponentially increases the odds of a successful rescue whether you have a friend along or not. A good rule of thumb is to plan for the emergency that hopefully never comes.

Playing in the backcountry is a big draw to Gallatin County residents and visitors. Knowing the risks and dangers, and being prepared for what might happen, can save your life. So, get out and go camping, go hiking, go rafting, and please call if you need help. Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue will be there when you need us.

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Capt. Scott Secor is SAR Commander for the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office