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Rescue volunteers prepare to save hikers in southern Arizona's dangerous summers

Non-profit SARA closed its latest yearly recruiting window; Trained staff rescue people at no cost to them
Posted at 5:24 AM, Jul 19, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) -- — An expert search-and-rescue team in Pima County has geared up for its busiest season of the year. This all-volunteer group, however, needs the community's help to keep hikers and walkers safe.

Tucked away outside Sabino Canyon, you'll find the Southern Arizona Rescue Association's (SARA) headquarters. Staff leader and spokesperson Amy Di Miceli said the group currently has about 120 members, including people who support the non-profit's mission.

"We have about 30-40 (people) who actually go out and rescue people on a regular basis," she said. Di Miceli is one of those rescuers who do not earn a single dime for the life-saving service they provide.

SARA receives some funding from Pima County, but it mostly covers operations and training. That way, Di Miceli said, when disaster strikes, it's all systems go. In these situations, she said the Pima County Sheriff's Department will give them a call asking for their expertise.

"We will actually get a notification on an app that we have, and that we use to notify people a rescue is underway," Di Miceli said. From there, volunteers who can lend their time drop whatever they're doing and rush out to help. Di Miceli said her peers have stepped away from dinners, Easter brunch and even birthday parties to help a rescue mission.

"If you're able to do it, a lot of times people will leave their families, leave their grocery shopping and go and help somebody in need," she said. In these high-pressure moments, local police, sheriff's deputies and firefighters rely on SARA. Surprisingly, and to some, incredibly, it's at no cost to the people they save.

"We don't charge anything," Di Miceli said. "Whether it's a helicopter rescue, a horseback ride-out, we carry them out or we stay the night with them and hike them out in the morning. It costs absolutely nothing."

Di Miceli said their rescue frequency ramps up this time of year, when monsoon creates dangerous conditions. But, the fact that their services are free makes a big difference.

"There's so many people going out, recreating on Mount Lemmon or at Saguaro national parks," she said. "It's very important that we have this resource available and people aren't scared that it's gonna cost them, you know, thousands of dollars to get rescued. They're able to call us and continue to go out and hike, with that comfort knowing that we're there."

That's not to say, though, that Di Miceli and SARA don't want people enjoying the great outdoors to come prepared and take caution. "Summertime is a very dangerous time in Tucson. Not just the flash floods, but the heat is so, so dangerous. I cannot stress that enough."

Since this group is a volunteer force, they recruit once a year. SARA just finished the process for 2023, but anyone who's interest in helping can follow their social mediaprofiles for the next opportunity to apply and start training.

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.