SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- When many of us think “search and rescue,” we think of first responders. However, there is another group that does it, not as part of their job but as part of a need to help, and that's the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Team.
The group works so quietly, and with so little fanfare, that you might not realize you know some of them, like Pam Medhurst.
“People may not realize who's living right next door, why they get up in the middle of the night and put an orange shirt on,” Medhurst said.
Medhurst has been donning the orange uniform for 22 years, telling ABC 10News, “I read a book about a woman who did search and rescue with her dog and I thought that's what I want to do.”
The sheriff's department formed the search and rescue team in 1963. The group of 150 to 200 is made up entirely of volunteers. Medhurst’s husband, Rich, created a recruiting video that features people from all walks of life and all ages who have at least one thing in common --- commitment, and the intensive 3-month training academy is only the beginning.
“When we're called out, it's probably the worst day in somebody's life and they want the best resources available to help them, and that's why everybody trains all the time around the clock,” she said.
For Medhurst, that includes K-9 search and rescue, which means she and her beagle train weekly to make sure their skills are honed and ready.
Medhurst said, “His name is Banjo and he's actually a rescue. He was born in a puppy mill.”
That means Banjo the rescue is now rescuing people.
The group has been called in on some of the biggest searches San Diego County has seen, including the search for 17-year-old Chelsea King.
“That really resonated with all of us because she was young; and me, in particular, because she was out on a run, which I do every day,” said Medhurst.
Chelsea King was found dead in March 2010 near Lake Hodges, five days after she disappeared.
Medhurst said when searches don’t end the way they want, she draws strength from the team and from the people.
“Part of it was the community itself and how they responded to that search and how we embraced the family and the positivity that became Chelsea,” said Medhurst.
That positivity continues to permeate this group because for them, every search starts with hope.
“This team is very dedicated and are always going out. They're always training and I just feel honored to be a small part of it,” said Medhurst.
When the pandemic started, Medhurst said the group was told they had to stop training, but the need for search and rescue didn't stop, so with added pandemic precautions, they've been able to continue.
For more information on the Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team, visit https://www.sdsheriff.gov/recruitment/search-and-rescue.