In 1998, Jan Foltz’s daughter was nearly killed in a rockslide while hiking with a church group in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
She was saved, thanks to the efforts of a search and rescue team. Despite being struck on the head by a boulder, she managed to make a full recovery.
“I wanted a way to give back,” Foltz said.
So in 2000, the Vancouver resident joined Silver Star Search and Rescue. She has been volunteering there for the past 15 years. The organization’s theme, “So others may live,” really hits home.
Foltz, 61, a retired teacher, also visits local schools to offer safety classes.
“Search and rescue isn’t just about going and finding people,” she said. “We do a lot of volunteer work in the community as well.”
Silver Star Search and Rescue was formed in 1963 by a group of CB radio operators to assist the sheriff’s department. Although times and technology have changed a lot in 52 years, one thing remains the same: The organization is made up entirely of volunteers.
President Rick Blevins of Vancouver has been a member since 1976.
The diesel mechanic is also the unofficial handyman and inventor of the group. One of his biggest projects was converting an old school bus into a mobile headquarters, complete with a large, flat screen computer, sleeping quarters and a drying rack for wet clothes.
“If we need something done, we go through Rick,” joked Foltz.
Blevins joined Silver Star after participating in a snowmobile search as a teenager.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that was fun,'” he said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
Wade Oxford, 47, of Camas, has been volunteering with Silver Star since 1992.
“They had an information booth at a community fair in Vancouver and I thought it looked like fun,” he said. “I have always enjoyed the outdoors and this was great.”
Oxford’s first search, evidence gathering, was long and tedious.
“You literally have to go through everything, including the sticker bushes,” he said.
He has participated in many more searches since then, many of them involving lost hikers.
“People are always so appreciative that we are out there, looking for their loved ones, whether it is successful or not,” he said.
Vice President Stephen Donahay, 45, has been volunteering for four years. He was invited by a friend to attend a Silver Star business meeting.
“The best part of this work is finding people,” he said. “You really see how you are serving a purpose.”
Silver Star currently has 20 volunteers who participate in four teams. These are:
o A wilderness team, which consists of supporting law enforcement officers searching for missing hikers, climbers and hunters that have been reported overdue, and are potentially lost or injured.
o The urban team searches for lost children and those suffering from dementia and other mental issues.
o Crime scene search and evidence discovery helps city or county police locate objects or subjects who are missing from a crime scene.
o Base support provides command center support capabilities during search activities, day and night, in all kinds of weather.
To become a volunteer, one must pass a background check, become certified in CPR and first aid, and attend three business meetings. All members are considered probationary for the first year, and allowed to go into the field only with qualified members.
Within that first year, volunteers must meet all state education requirements for search and rescue emergency work. This includes search and survival techniques, blood borne pathogens training, helicopter safety, radio communications, crime scene protocol, and map and compass training.
Blevins said an ideal candidate would enjoy the outdoors and be adventurous. There is no hours of service requirement.
“Since we are 100 percent volunteer, we ask people to come when they can,” he said. “That varies from person to person.”
Silver Star’s team is supported entirely by public grants and donations and receives no tax funding. Recently, the Camas-Washougal Community Chest donated $5,000 to the organization, to help with the purchase of a new search and rescue truck.
Since volunteers spend many hours together in sometimes extreme situations, they often form a strong bond.
“It’s really like a second family,” Oxford said. “We are all pretty close.”
Foltz noted that one of her favorite aspects of search and rescue is the positive attitude, both from within the volunteer ranks and externally.
“People are so appreciative that we make an effort, whether we are successful or not.”