SNOHOMISH COUNTY — D.J. Defreeze leads the Equine response team for the Snohomish County Search and Rescue with the help of his 8-year-old horse, Dakota.
“All of the members of this unit, we’re completely self-sufficient,” Defreeze said. “We own everything. We use our own money, we spend our own time.”
It’s a huge commitment for the 20 volunteers and 40 horses that makeup this team.
“Each person to get into the unit will probably have anywhere from 200-250 training hours before they’re qualified to be in the unit But they are an important asset with a unique set of skills. We’re higher than the standard searcher. We get out in territory like this, and we can see higher than the average searcher easier. We have a better view,” said Defreeze.
The horses can also be used to carry equipment and help with evacuations. But their specialty is finding missing people.
“We do spend a lot of our time searching for lost subjects. We can travel a further distance without really being tired. The horses stand up great and when we get to the subject, we’re ready to go,” he said.
The E.R.T. goes on 20 - 70 missions every single year, but it’s the fall and winter months that keep them the busiest.
“At this point people are going to be out looking at the fall colors, getting into the back country before the snow hits. It will be kind of the last rush. That’s when the twisted ankles come, the falls. Lots of things can happen out there,” said Defreeze.
But it’s the many success stories and people he’s helped that keep Defreeze and Dakota going strong even with the constant challenges that come with the job.
“It’s not for everybody. There is a huge time commitment, but I say the drive is serving others” Defreeze said. “You know Snohomish County has a motto ‘that others may live’ and that plays a pretty big role in our thinking, and in our ability to get there as quickly as possible.”
And thanks to lots of training, they get home safe and sound and ready for the next call.
At the heart of the Snohomish County search and rescue team is their mobile command center which is in desperate need of being replaced. Defreeze says it helps make their rescue efforts faster and more efficient. If you would like to help and donate to the team, you can do so by clicking here.