Dixie Elks Charitable Foundation provides windfall for search and rescue program during lean times

ST. GEORGE — A substantial donation from a local charity organization was presented Wednesday to Washington County Search and Rescue, providing a much-needed windfall for the volunteer group at a time when nearly all fund-raising activities have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Washington County Sheriff’ Sgt. Darrell Cashin speaking during check presentation to the search and rescue program by Dixie Elks Charitable Foundation in Hurricane, Utah, June 3, 2020 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

St. George Dixie Elks Charitable Foundation, a charitable organization formed more than two decades ago, presented a $10,000 check to the Washington County Search and Rescue program during an informal event held at the sheriff’s office..

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrel Cashin, who also serves as the program’s liaison, told St. George News that the donation couldn’t have come at a better time.

Community support and donations are vital to keep the program running, Cashin said, and while a line item in the Sheriff’s Office annual budget is earmarked for the search and rescue program, fundraising plays a huge role in covering equipment and other costs associated with the program. During a typical year, the group raises between $40,000-$60,000 in donations and through fundraising activities.

“This year, with the onset of COVID-19, most of our fundraisers have gone away,” Cashin said.

Charmain O’Mara, the foundation’s president, said the foundation was formed to help smaller, struggling nonprofit organizations in the community, and once she found out about the canceled fundraising events for search and rescue, she made a list of the equipment needed and took it to the foundation’s board, which was “happy to jump in and help.”

“The search and rescue program is such an active part of this community – and they do so much for everyone,” O’Mara said. “So we decided to go with them on this.”

She also said the foundation is working on a second donation for the program, “to get them the equipment they need.”

Rescue teams are busy, especially this time of year. In fact, the group of rescuers gathered at the sheriff’s office during the check presentation Wednesday went directly from there to Sand Hollow State Park on a rollover accident. Cashin received the page minutes after the presentation, he said, and the group, along with Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, responded to Sand Mountain where four occupants were reportedly injured when their all-terrain vehicle rolled.

Last year, the search and rescue group responded to 130 rescue calls and logged more than 7,600 volunteer hours, which included time on calls and training for the volunteers that make up the team.

Chief Deputy Nate Brooksby with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office during drone demonstration when check is presented by Dixie Elks Charitable Foundation in Hurricane, Utah, June 3, 2020 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

The donation from the Elks Foundation was used to purchase a drone and five 800-megahertz radios – items that are already on order, Cashin said.

“When the donations come in, the money goes out right away and is used for equipment that we need out in the field now.”

Cashin went on to say that drones play an important role in many rescues and can help teams not only locate the lost but can also assist in getting an accurate assessment of the terrain in the area or to map out the safest route to reach an injured hiker. The devices also assist in getting the right supplies or medical aid to the injured.

The program currently has two drones. The ultimate goal, Cashin said, is to have four drones that can cover the 2,500 square miles that make up Washington County: two for rescues that take place on the west side of the county and two for calls on the east side.

The 800-megahertz radios will simplify communications as well, he said. Right now, rescue members are using VHS radios, which are not capable of reaching emergency dispatch, EMS or other services directly. Instead, he said, rescuers must call the staging area and request whatever services or resources needed, and that information is then relayed to the appropriate agency or contact.

The upgrade in radio communication will reduce response times and also increase the accuracy of the information, as it comes directly from the person making the request.

“There would have been no way for us to get this equipment right now without the help of the foundation,” Cashin said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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