Mountain Rescue Team Recruitment by Trent Thomas

Southern Arizona is abundant with trails, mountains, and open desert all around. It is one of the many benefits of living in this area. Occasionally in these remote areas, some adventure seekers need help due to an injury or a loss of orientation. Oftentimes, that is when the Southern Arizona Rescue Association (SARA) gets involved.

Yellow and orange shirt rescue team members load a patient into a waiting helicopter.

Shelley Littin is a mountain rescue technician with SARA. She belongs to an organization that has approximately 180 members that are ready to help those in need. The association is busy with rescue calls throughout the year. “Annually, we average about 100 calls for assistance. In 2016, we supported around 140 calls,” Shelley said.

SARA consists of over 100 active members that come from a variety of professional backgrounds. “Military veterans, engineers, U of A students, and also retired people that are simply looking for something to do while enjoying the outdoors. It really runs the gamut,” Shelley said of the members. “Our youngest member is 18 years old. Our oldest member is 80,” Shelley added. When incidents occur, volunteer members are all notified of calls for assistance. Whoever is able to respond to a call simply replies and starts heading to the designated rally point.

“Recently a young adult woman was hiking the Seven Falls Trail in Sabino Canyon. She slipped and sustained a badly injured ankle at the farthest point of the falls,” according to Shelley. Twelve members of the mountain rescue team received the afternoon notification and later assembled at the trailhead ready to initiate the rescue. “We came prepared with our rescue gear along with a Stokes basket for extraction,” Shelley said.

“When we arrived on scene our team conducted a medical assessment of the woman. We saw she could not bear any weight on the ankle and that she had an abnormal amount of pain for a regular ankle injury,” described Shelley. This raised concerns among the rescue team members. The team elected to coordinate for helicopter transport so that she could receive higher level care. “The sheriff’s office flew a helicopter in and hoisted her out of the canyon. They dropped her off at a waiting ambulance,” she said. The entire ordeal lasted 5 hours.

If this volunteer work sounds interesting to you, then SARA encourages you to attend one of their two available prospective candidate orientation recruitment events. On June 22 or July 18, from 7pm-9pm, prospective candidates need to take this first step in joining the rescue association. No RSVP is required for attending the meeting at 5990 N. Sabino Canyon Road. “This is your chance to get an idea of what to expect. We will go over the time commitments, physical requirements, training requirements, and have an opportunity for questions,” said Littin.

New members can then expect to receive training courses starting in August. This training involves getting members fully prepared for field qualification. “New members will train in subjects such as land navigation, wilderness survival, first aid, radio communication, GPS, and rope systems,” Shelley added. Graduation takes place in November.

Bill Kelleman was looking for a way to give back to the community when he first joined SARA. “It’s not often in our jobs that instant gratification comes to you. Being able to physically rescue someone or turn them around with treatment was eye-opening for me.” Bill was hooked after his first search and rescue mission. Twenty-five years later and after 593 rescue missions, Bill still loves the work.

Now retired from the Air Force, Bill enjoys the same camaraderie in SARA that he experienced from his time in the military. Speaking about his SARA teammates, Bill added, “To know they have your back one hundred percent of the time, whether it be a long hard night search or a difficult rescue. The value of this team is often understated. Volunteers they call us. Unpaid true professionals is what we really are.”

SARA is a non-profit, all-volunteer search and rescue organization serving southern Arizona and Pima County since 1958. SARA members are volunteers from all walks of life. For more information on SARA – Search and Rescue Council, Inc – Tucson, Arizona, go to



About author View all posts

Guest Author