Snohomish County Volunteer Search & Rescue seek federal funding to stay afloat

Snohomish County Volunteer Search & Rescue (SAR) crews are always rushing toward danger, risking their own lives to save strangers in perilous situations. Now, they're calling out for their own lifeline. 

Grants and donations normally sustain Snohomish County Volunteer Search & Rescue, but the pandemic disrupted their income streams. The organization is hoping county officials will fill the gap with federal stimulus dollars. 

"The value is seen by the entire community," said Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. 

Fortney says a small portion of his agency’s budget helps pay for some of SAR’s operating costs and the rest is covered by the non-profit. Year after year, volunteers on foot and from the air risk their lives to help those in danger close to home, or injured and stranded in remote areas of the backcountry. 

"All of our techs are EMTs and paramedics in the county," said SAR Chief Pilot, Bill Quistorf. 

During a recent podcast interview, Fortney spoke with Quistorf about his team and their roles as a matter of public service.

"The rest of our pilots and crews are volunteers," Quistorf added.

The non-profit penned a letter earlier this year to county elected leadership, asking for relief using federal stimulus money. The pandemic severely hampered the organization’s ability to fundraise at the same time when calls for services increased.  

The letter detailed how the organization could use less than $1 million of the $160 million the county expected to receive from the federal government via the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Stimulus dollars would pay for critical infrastructure improvements and equipment upgrades as parts of its facility and vehicle fleet that has become obsolete. 

While federal guidelines restrict how local governments spend rescue funds, the county expects half of the money to address long-term and capital project needs. 

As Western Washington continues to grow in population, more adventure seekers may likely trek into the wilderness. Fortney believes investing recovery dollars into SAR today will end up saving lives tomorrow.

"Any time we’re supporting what they’re doing out there, it’s going to go towards saving lives in the long run," he said. "That sounds like a bold statement, but that’s what these folks do every day."

The Snohomish County Council is expected to reveal how it plans to spend the recovery dollars later this summer.