ST. GEORGE — Red Rock Search and Rescue Las Vegas division was created during a search for Ron Kirk, a lost hiker who had gone missing in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Likewise, when Macin Smith went missing in September 2015, the Red Rock Search and Rescue St. George division was born.
Both divisions were created out of need. Namely, when time and resources run out for local search and rescue teams, there will remain a group that “does not quit.”
The Las Vegas division had been aware for some time that they were going to have to expand their scope of operations, Commander Dave Cummings, who is the commander of both divisions, said.
When the Macin Smith search began, it became clear that a new division in the St. George area was needed. After seeing the expenses involved in transporting personnel and equipment to the area, it was clear the time had come.
“It was time to go ahead and start forming a team that would clone us (the Las Vegas division) in St. George,” Cummings said.
“We started as a group of people looking for Macin Smith,” Red Rock Search and Rescue St. George Lt. Amy MacKay said. “It’s the same way with the Las Vegas division. They started in 2012. There were two people missing that got this started. It’s the same type of situation here and there. The local authorities, they just don’t have the money and the manpower and the time to keep looking.”
That is where Red Rock Search and Rescue comes in. When the resources run out for the official organizations, the volunteers in Las Vegas and St. George can continue looking.
When the Las Vegas division began operations, the local law enforcement agencies were initially somewhat wary of their intentions, Cummings said. But after the group spent 13 months looking for — and eventually finding — a missing person’s body and solved another 13 missions in the same time frame, then trust began to be built between the Las Vegas division of Red Rock Search and Rescue and local law enforcement.
However, unlike the Las Vegas division, which has Subaru as its main source of financial support, the St. George division has no sponsors yet. While Desert Hills High School raised approximately $10,000 in two weeks to support the division in September 2015, they are still in need of sponsors and donations to keep them going.
“That is our first donation at all,” MacKay said. “We’re overwhelmed in trying to decide with where to start. … We want to get our name out there, we would love any sponsorship.”
Currently, the St. George division has a command staff of around 10 — those who have undergone preliminary training — but they are bolstering their ranks with approximately 20 new recruits who will begin orientation this month.
“That will be our core team once they go through the orientation process and then they take SAR 101,” MacKay said.
“That’s coming along,” Cummings said. “It’s in its infancy. It’s going to take us another six months to a year to get everything on its footing up there. It’s quite a process. … The first thing that’s most important to us is making sure we’ve got people with clean backgrounds and that we can get them trained and certified. That’s our highest priority.”
It will take some time for the St. George branch to catch up to the training and certification level of the Las Vegas division, which is the only search and rescue program in southern Nevada to be certified to teach and test by the standards established by the National Association for Search and Rescue. It will take around a year of training before the St. George division is likewise certified, MacKay said.
“We will definitely be doing it,” she said.
Red Rock Search and Rescue is different from traditional search and rescue groups in that they do not focus on technical rescue, Cummings said. Instead, they are “ground pounders” whose main impetus is searching for those most likely to get lost — children, confused Alzheimer’s patients or runaways — in less technical terrain like urban areas.
“We don’t do the technical types of rescues,” Cummings said. “We also work hand in hand with missing persons or homicide. Quite often, there will be a case where a sheriff does deploy. They search but they get to a point where it’s not cost effective to keep the mission going because they determine that the individual is more than likely a (body) recovery. Since they don’t know where that individual is, they’ve got to pull their resources back and have them … on standby for the next mission. That ends up having a family standing by the curb saying ‘who do I turn to?’ Well, they turn to us.”
Most search and rescue agencies don’t spend a lot of time looking for runaways, Cummings said.
“There aren’t people available to do what we do,” he said.
One aspect of the Las Vegas division that the St. George chapter would like to emulate is the success rate. The Las Vegas division went on 56 searches last year, finding every single one of the missing — except Macin Smith. They logged more than 28,000 man-hours of volunteer work last year.
“Macin’s the only case — we are working some cold cases that existed before we existed — but as far as missions we’ve deployed on, we can account for every person we’ve gone to look for,” Cummings said. “Macin is the first one (they have not found).”
More and more professional search and rescue agencies are learning the value of having a well-trained group of volunteers to supplement them, Cummings said.
In addition to training, some of the more immediate goals to get the St. George division up and running is the acquisition of various types of equipment and to find a space to operate from.
“We’re going to get them equipment,” Cummings said. “We’re going to get them all the medical equipment, some of the rescue gear we typically take with us … we’re probably going to establish a small office up there. We’re also going to get a working relationship hopefully with St. George PD and … with the sheriff up there so that we’re all on (the same) page and we’re all MOU (memorandum of understanding) with both organizations.”
There is no relationship yet developed with Red Rock Search and Rescue and the Sheriff’s Office, although the group has reached out, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said.
“They have opened a line of communication with us,” Pulsipher said. “We will, of course, use any and all resources available to us if they become needed.”
Cummings began working in search and rescue in 1990 in San Bernardino and regards the work as the single-most important thing he has done in his life.
The Macin Smith case is ongoing. A $1,000 reward has been offered for any information which leads to Smith’s return to his family.
“We’re going to keep searching in Utah,” Cummings said. “The man has vanished. There’s been absolutely no sightings … every sighting has been a false sighting — it’s as if he just vanished from his house.”
“We just keep finding areas of interest,” MacKay said. “We go out and we clear them; we’re still actively looking.”
Anyone interested in joining Red Rock Search and Rescue St. George division can fill out an online application.
Those with any information on the location of Macin Smith should contact Dave Cummings at 702-787-4068 or Dave@redrocksar.org.
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