Seldom considered by most urban police departments, the search and rescue function still remains a vital part of law enforcement for rural agencies responsible for covering vast expanses of desert, mountainous, or densely wooded terrain. Each year, a small private plane may go down somewhere, a hiker or hunter gets lost, a weekend mountain climber takes a tumble, or somebody’s car breaks down far from civilization. When that happens, and the appropriate agency is notified, the call goes out to the local S&R organization and the search process is launched.
Depending on the nature of who or what was “lost” or overdue, the time frame involved, and the territory to be covered, the typical volunteer response is carried out in privately owned trucks, Jeeps, and similar 4-wheel-drive vehicles alongside whatever off-road capabilities and aerial assistance the sheriff’s office or forest service can muster up. Sometimes just covering the back roads can turn up the lost person; other times it’s a matter of getting in where there aren’t any roads and even a Jeep may not be able to navigate well. Horses tend to be handy in such spots, but can’t carry much in the way of radio and other electrical gear, emergency medical supplies, and so on. For those occasions, rural agencies are beginning to look beyond the traditional full-sized vehicles for something smaller and more maneuverable. The traditional 4-wheel-drive ATVs have been used with success, but they’re still limited somewhat with the safety restriction of only carrying one person (the driver), and having a relatively small cargo carrying capacity.