Early Years of Search and Rescue
In the 1920’s the California legislature assigned the duty of wilderness search and rescue to the highest law enforcement official in each county. In San Bernardino County that duty fell to the county sheriff. But for many years there were too few deputies to perform wilderness rescues. Becuase of this, the Sheriff formed units of reserve deputies. These were volunteers who would turn up to assist the sheriff when needed.
Search & rescue missions were performed by a specially trained group of patrol deputies. When a call came out, these deputies would leave their normal law enforcement duties. They would rush to those in need in the wilderness area. The group became known as the West End Search & Rescue Team.
West Valley Search and Rescue Team Formation
In 1985, a call went out to the public for citizens to form an all-volunteer search & rescue team. The Sheriff’s Department needed to apply more of its resources to its primary function of law enforcement. It became increasingly difficult to pull deputies from their normal assignments to respond to wilderness emergencies, and the volume of calls did not justify the expense. The men and women who responded to that call became the West Valley Search and Rescue Team.
In 1989 the team began to go out into the community to teach wilderness safety. This education was specifically targeted at children. It focused on how to stay safe and what to do if they got lost. Though it is difficult to measure how effective the program has been, the team has not had to rescue a missing child in several years.
West Valley Joins the Mountain Rescue Association
In 1992, West Valley Search and Rescue began the difficult process of becoming a fully accredited member of the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA). To meet the high standards of the MRA, the team had to pass a series of tests over several months. West Valley Search and Rescue became the first team in San Bernardino County to be accepted into the MRA the following year. In recognition of this outstanding effort, the county named West Valley Search and Rescue “Search & Rescue Team of the Year” in 1993.
In 1997, the team was granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status. As the team grew the lack of sufficient funding began to limit the team’s ability to carry out its mission. Achieving non-profit status greatly increased the team’s ability to raise funds. It also allowed them to purchase critical equipment without placing additional burdens on the taxpayers of San Bernardino County. Though donations have increased, so has the job.
West Valley Search and Rescue Today
Today, the team has a reputation for excellence that few would have believed possible in 1985. The team continues to train hard. This is to ensure their mission of providing search and rescue to people in difficulty and to instruct children and adults in mountain safety education.