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Coconino Search and Rescue veteran Deb Lauman is on the organization's technical rescue team. (Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun)

Every year, the Coconino County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team is called out about 100 times for lost or injured people and body recoveries.

Deb Lauman is a part of that team.

If you stray off trail hiking Mount Elden, fall 150 feet canyoneering in Insomnia Canyon, or die from a medical condition while running up Humphreys, she'll help get you out, if not always home alive.

She volunteers as many as 1,000 hours some years - which would average out to 20 hours a week -  saving people she's never met, in what is often one of the most frightening times of their lives. It isn't uncommon for volunteers to donate hundreds of hours each year to rescue operations and frequent training.

"It really feels like something meaningful and a way to give back to the community," Lauman said.

It isn't always saving a life though. Often, Lauman says, their task is simply saving someone from an uncomfortable situation.

"We get a huge variety of calls," Lauman said. "People get themselves into some strange places."


For her, the fit with Search and Rescue was natural. Lauman has long been in love with the outdoors and has trekked the more than 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail.

"Like a lot of people on the team I was already an outdoors person," she said.

It was that same love, and a desire to give back, that pushed her to join the Search and Rescue team some five years ago. As a freelance writer who spends much of her working hours at home behind a computer screen, volunteering was also a chance to get outside more and be a part of a strong team.

She ghost-writes books, authors outdoors stories and writes whatever she's assigned. Lauman also runs a local blog.

Her job allows her flexibility in being able to respond at a moment’s notice. Even though they're never obligated to show up, it's common for team members to get frustrated when they aren't available for a call, she says. Because everyone is seen as contributing something to a search, there's also a strong sense of camaraderie.


Lauman and other highly experienced Search and Rescue members constitute the Technical Rescue Team. They're the ones who rappel down cliffs anchored to ropes during rescues and recoveries -- an irony, considering Lauman is terrified of heights.

Regardless of any apparent foolish decision made by someone being rescued, the Sheriff's Office doesn't charge for its services to ensure cost is never a factor in a person calling for help or a loved one filing a missing person report.

Search and Rescue Coordinator Sgt. Aaron Dick says that Mount Elden and the San Francisco Peaks are some of the most common places for people to call for help.

While the perception of Search and Rescue is often that of rock climbing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, high adrenaline rush, in reality, much of the job is canvassing a search area or driving back and forth down a Forest Service Road all night.

Rescuers spend even more time in training, becoming and staying certified, and taking tests.

"That's why they call us volunteer professionals," she said. "Not only are you taking your personal time and putting yourself at some risk, but it's a lot of training."


The job also involves a front row seat to the tragedy that the public often only reads about.

Despite a number of trips beneath Midgely Bridge in Sedona to recover the bodies of those who've leapt to their deaths, Lauman says she's much more affected by the unexpected, well-prepared person's death.

Outfitted in cold-weather gear, Lauman and other rescuers hiked almost to the peak of Humphreys during an unusually frigid span in May to recover the body of a 53-year-old Glendale man. A marathon runner, he appeared to have died of a medical condition. She says looking at the man, she wondered about his life and loved ones.

"His day started out as any other happy day," she said.

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