Charlotte and Colin Klein, twin sophomores at Grant High School, stand ready to search and rescue when people get lost in nature.
The siblings belong to Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, a group of about 120 adult and youth volunteers who have been trained to methodically search and assist emergency responders in a variety of scenarios: lost hikers, plane crashes, searching for criminal evidence in the snow, heat of the summer or in the midst of the Pacific Northwest rain and more.
For the twin team leaders, these types of activities are fun as they enter their third year. They’re hoping other youth will join. The group will have a recruiting session from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the sheriff’s office Hansen Building at 12240 N.E. Glisan St. A second session is scheduled for Sept. 16 at the same time and location.
“I enjoy searching even if it sounds terrible,” said Colin Klein. “Sometimes the searches that sound the worst are the best because you share the experience with everyone else on the team.”
It’s these types of shared experiences that help many of the volunteer youth go on to become police officers, paramedics, nurses, doctors, military personnel and other public servants, said Jake Keller, the group’s head training advisor. Any person who is at least 14 years old is welcome, Keller said.
“We train them from the ground up,” Keller said. “There’s no experience needed. We’ll teach them survival and navigation and medical stuff and how to deal with crime scenes and the public. Extractions. Pretty much everything. Our group is pretty unique.”
Training is not easy.
Last year, the group took in 106 new youth recruits to undergo two-hour classroom trainings every Wednesday night with monthly weekend outings from October through May. They ended with 55.
Those youth who finish are eligible to take advance courses the following year to help earn leadership roles. From August 2014 through last month, the group documented more than 31,000 volunteer hours that include 37 missions and 71 training events.
Weekend training outingss include learning how to build a fire in the rain, the use of blue tarps for shelter and how to navigate an area with just a compass and map. Team leaders like the Kleins will often visit other youth trainees with rewards, such as items to make s’mores, to keep spirits high, Charlotte Klein said.
“It’s really peaceful out there in the woods,” said Charlotte Klein. “During survival outings, that is some of the funniest moments around the camp fire.”
Enrollment costs $150, which pays for meals, training and some gear, like t-shirts, first aid kit and a compass. But volunteers will need to purchase a laundry list of items such as backpacks, plastic tarp for sheltering and other survival gear.
Parents and students have to work out agreements with teachers and schools about attending daytime missions. Teachers and principals usually allow students to leave for missions if they’re caught up on homework and schoolwork, said Ryan Summers, one of the adult advisors.
“Most teachers are really excited about it and more than willing to let the students go out for search,” Summers said.
Volunteers don’t have to go to every mission if the call for help is untimely, Summers said.
If youth encounter traumatic scenarios, such as dead bodies, the sheriff’s office provides counselors and mental health specialists to make sure the youth process what they’ve seen, Keller said.
Jim Klein, the twins’ father, said his children have a great outlook on life. He appreciates the leadership and survival skills his children have learned.
“They gain independence,” Klein said, “and they feel competent very quickly.”