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`Operation Safe Summer: Search and Rescue experts give ‘must-need’ hiking tips

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Hiking is a favorite pastime across the state, but it can create a busy season for search and rescue teams.

As part of “Operation Safe Summer,” I went into the woods with the experts to see how they prepare for the worst and what they refuse to go hiking without.

“We can be used for anything- everything from search and rescue to natural disasters,” says Alan LaBissoniere, president of the special vehicles unit of the King County Search and Rescue. This unit is used a lot with over one hundred calls a year. Their motorcycles and ATVs can get into places that other vehicles cannot. LaBissoniere explains, “It’s something typically we do if trails and other things are not passable by the 4X4 teams or trucks and jeeps and things like that.” And their services are used by police departments all over the state. Steven McCulley is Chief of the Snoqualmie Police Department and says, “Where we live, work and play out here we have incidents and we’ve used them in the past because we don’t have that capacity within our police department”

And since these men and women have pretty much seen it all, and are experts in their field, I asked them what they bring on THEIR personal hiking adventures.  “Probably a cell phone. I would never leave without my cell phone,” LaBissoniere says. But he says to turn off your cell phone while hiking, explaining “If you have no cell phone service, it will drain the battery 4 or 5 times faster because it’s bumping up the battery to connect to the tower. The biggest thing is turn your cell phone off when you’re hiking and then when you need help you can turn it on. Get the signal and then call for help.”

And another thing he never leaves the woods without is basic food and water. His backpack also containers a few other items like a portable stove. “There’s your stove itself, some matches and then that’s your fuel right there,” LaBissoniere explains. And  extra supplies just in case they’re in the woods for more than a few hours. He also is quick to point out that every single volunteer also carries a whistle because the sound can carry much farther than a voice.

And one more thing. Chief McCulley adds, “If you’re going to go hiking, go with somebody. It’s almost mandatory that you should go with somebody, but if you are going to go alone, at least let somebody know where you’re going, leave a note in your car, that’s extremely helpful to us when we find somebody who’s lost, at least we have a point of origin to start.” Being prepared is all a part of staying safe this summer.