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Riverside County Sheriff’s Office’s rescue units prepare for the summer heat

Every year, the Riverside County Sheriff's Office's Desert Search and Rescue (DSSAR) team, Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit (RMRU), and Riverside County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit (RSOAU) are called upon to help people who make it up a hiking trail, but can't make it back down.

The RSOAU is the first team called out to perform a rescue when someone requests help on hiking trails like the Bump and Grind Trail in Palm Desert.

The crew operates an H145 Airbus for its search and rescue. It received the aircraft in March 2021 and since then has conducted about 184 rescues.

The rescues performed on the newer helicopter make it more efficient and easier for the flight crew, starting from its hoist system.

The hoist can hold up to 550 pounds.

RSOAU Chief Pilot Mike Calhoun simulated how a rescue is performed with its hoist system.

During the summer season, RSOAU is called out to help people experiencing heat injuries like heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or lost hikers.

The unit said the summertime months are when they get the second most calls, falling behind the springtime.

Chief Calhoun also said that those who are rescued by their helicopter aren't charged for it.

“If you find yourself in a predicament, and we have to come and get you, that this is no cost to the people involved regardless if you live in Riverside County or not. This is our job and this is what your taxpayer dollars are going for,” he said.

Aside from air rescues, there are several instances where boots on the ground are needed to help assist a hiker in distress. This is where RMRU and DSSAR come in.

In a given year, the RMRU said it conducted 69 rescues last year. The DSSAR team said it conducted 22 rescues last year, and this year so far only three.

For both teams, these numbers are the average amount of rescues performed every year.

The Riverside County Sheriffs Office Aviation Unit performed over 100 rescues last year. This team is utilized to transport people who are hurt, and often times suffer from heat-related illnesses when on a hiking trail.

A good amount of the rescues all three teams perform are heat-related issues, which is why it's important to make sure if you're going on a hike, prepare yourself.

Sharon Ollenburgen, the President of the DSSAR advised hikers to "plan your hike and hike your plan." She said it's important to let people know where you are going and make sure you stay on route.

Even for experienced hikers, the sun and hot temperatures can creep up on you.

Phil Skylar with DSSAR said for people to start hydrating at least 12 hours before they go on a hike. Also, make sure you pack enough water in case of an emergency.

If you are able to, hike as early as possible or at the end of the day when the sun is going down.

Other materials you should have in a backpack when out on a hike are:

  • Appropriate footwear
  • Map and compass/GPS
  • Extra water and a way to purify it.
  • Extra food
  • Safety items: fire, light, and a whistle
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
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Crystal Jimenez

Crystal Jimenez is a news reporter who joined the KESQ News Channel 3 team in June 2021. Learn more about Crystal here.


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