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Written by Annie Fast
Photos by
Richard Bacon

Women of Deschutes County Search and Rescue

Women of Deschutes Search and Rescue

Local Heroes

It can come at any time—a call for help from someone stranded, injured, scared and in desperate need of wilderness rescue. These incoming 911 calls are transferred to Deschutes County Search & Rescue (SAR), which then issues an alert out to the network of 135 highly trained volunteers who drop what they’re doing and selflessly respond.

“Deschutes County is fortunate to have one of the most robust Search and Rescue teams,” said Sergeant Nathan Garibay, the emergency manager with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re really blessed by the dedication and quality of our volunteers.”

Of those 135 volunteers, 35 are women, all with a range of backgrounds and skill sets that make their contributions invaluable. These women don’t fit into any one type—they’re in different stages of life and their careers, with young families or retired; whether new to town or longtime residents. 

Volunteering with SAR is a commitment not to be taken lightly, volunteers must complete a month-long academy with frequent training sessions; the average member logs more than 200 hours per year, with the requirement of participating in a minimum of six missions per year. The reality is that most volunteers contribute well beyond that expectation. In addition to wilderness medical training, many volunteers are trained EMTs and paramedics, and many have amplified training for specialty teams which include swift water rescue, mountain rescue, winter search, water operations and canine search, to name a few. The women of SAR are not just stepping up as volunteers, more and more often they’re the ones leading these complicated missions.

Christa Nash-Weber

Christa Nash-Webber

Christa Nash-Webber joined SAR as a mom with two young children. Nash-Webber brings technical outdoor skills gleaned through a 20-year career in outdoor education. She volunteers on the medical team and the formerly male-dominated Mountain Rescue Team, where she serves as an assistant team coordinator. She joined in 2019 upon moving to Bend. “Joining SAR felt like a really nice next step, knowing I have a skill set that can be put to good use with people who are injured and lost, and I can make a real difference and help save lives,” she said. Nash-Webber shared that the most rewarding missions for her are the “epics,” the rescues that involve lengthy approach times and complicated transport. She recalled one such mission, a successful “epic” mission as part of a “hasty team,” which is a highly skilled group tasked with immediately deploying to jump start the search process. The mission took place in the Three Sisters Wilderness and began at midnight and didn’t end until 6:30 p.m. the following day. Nash-Webber has been part of intense backcountry missions and tragic, yet meaningful recovery missions. She explained, “Being outside fuels my soul. The ability to truly make a difference in the worst day of someone’s life, whether it’s bringing someone who’s sadly passed back to their family, or rescuing someone who’s been lost for a long time, the impact is very direct and very immediate.”

Nash-Webber is the event coordinator with SheJumps, an organization focused on increasing the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. Until recently, she also headed up SAR recruiting, a role that had her sharing the opportunity to volunteer in presentations all around town. A thread that runs through the experiences of these dedicated volunteers is the benefit of being a member of the SAR community and the opportunity to keep learning. “There are so many different ways to grow within the organization,” she said. “You can join a different team or become a field team leader, you can grow and stretch and challenge yourself in different ways throughout the years.” She gave a thoughtful look and said, “I think I’m going to be able to do SAR into my 70s.”

Roseanne Alwen and Taylor Bacci

Roseanne Alwen

One of the women stepping into a leadership role at SAR is Roseanne Alwen. Alwen joined SAR after retirement, volunteering on five different teams, most notably the Canine Team with her six-year-old labrador retriever, Sherman. Alwen and Sherman are called in for searches on land and in water; impressively, “Sherman is capable of searching an area of up to 500 acres in a day, logging 20 to 25 miles,” Alwen said. She is in the process of training her next search and rescue protege, an eight-month-old black lab, Porter. She trains with her dogs two to three days a week to maintain certification, dedicating an incredible amount of time and money. Explaining why she enjoys working with SAR, she said, “I’m out in the wilderness, I have my dog, I get to train him, and I get to help people.” Roseanne shared that her role with the dogs is often that of recovery, but even those are fulfilling, “It may be that we are only able to bring closure one time in the whole lifetime of each dog, but that’s one time that a family gets closure.” For Alwen, that’s enough to make it all worthwhile. 

Taylor Bacci

Taylor Bacci joined SAR in 2020. As a volunteer with the medical and snowmobile teams, Bacci said she values the experience of navigating in the outdoors and the constant problem-solving skills required while responding to missions ranging from injured climbers, lost hikers, heat-exhausted runners, bike crashes, stuck snowmobiles and recoveries. She shared, “Bend has been my home for over 15 years, and this town is packed with outdoorsy, active, risk-taking individuals. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. It fulfills me to provide first-responder efforts to help those who are in need.”

Patti Lynch

Patti Lynch

Patti Lynch has been a volunteer since 2015, joining SAR after retiring from a career in law enforcement. Her retirement plan was to spend her days riding her bike on Phil’s Trail, but immediately upon moving to Bend, Lynch was faced with evacuating from the 2014 Two Bulls Fire. She said, “As a police officer, I was used to knowing everything that was going on; the feeling of not knowing was anxiety producing for me.” That experience ignited her interest in becoming involved with SAR. Lynch is known as one of the more active volunteers, with a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the organization, including a near encyclopedic knowledge of the SAR inventory of rescue tools and vehicles, and a career officer’s attention to protocols.  

A volunteer with the snowmobile, ATV and Incident Management Team, Lynch is not a stranger to challenging rescues, including a day participating in and overseeing incident response to three separate calls at South Sister, as well as the emotional rescue of a pair of lost snowmobilers. These experiences are the “why” of why she volunteers. “We’re all here for the same reason,” she said, “We all want to be able to bring somebody home.” But as a woman who spent her career in a male-dominated field, Lynch shared that she is also passionate about encouraging women to take on leadership roles at SAR. “We’ve got women with a lot of gifts and talents and a different approach. It’s an incredibly strong female contingency right now who are all stepping up in some really cool ways.” 

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