In the late 1950’s, the need was there but no search and rescue team was available. The Idaho State Police, Idaho Fish and Game Department and various sheriffs’ departments were all involved with backcountry rescues for which they had no training and no equipment. Many persons participating in searches and rescues recognized the need for the specialized training required.
Dave Sarvis, then living in Billings, Montana, and Fred Weber, of Boise, were chosen to be on the Olympic Ski Patrol so the two traveled together to Squaw Valley, California, where the 1959 North American Ski Championships were held. Outside of ski areas watched over by ski patrols, there were no organized search and rescue teams available so the two talked a great deal about the need. A subsequent incident in the Bruneau Canyon was most convincing since no one knew how to get to the scene quickly because no one knew how to rappel.
Sheriffs were legally responsible for searches for lost persons but manpower was so short they frequently had to ask for volunteers. These volunteers decided to join together and get some training.
Fred Weber, with the Idaho Department of Highways, was an experienced climber with technical knowledge of mountain rescues, rope techniques, and so forth, so he was recruited to start training the team. He went back overseas to visit with his folks, bringing back a lot of information, mountain rescue technique books and much information about rescue in the Alps. A small handbook was assembled on how to get a call-out procedure going, who was qualified on ropes and much information on search and rescue procedures.
To form a team, and to get solid support, an attempt was made to get people from as many different agencies as possible. Bill Jones, Ada County Deputy Sheriff; Martel Morache, Idaho Fish and Game Department; Omar Fricke, Ski Patrol; Bob Kroush, Idaho State Police; Dave Sarvis, Insurance Agent; and Fred Weber, were among the first to be involved.
Dave Sarvis had just gone into business with his father in the old Federal Land Bank Building on 12th and Bannock Streets. With the support of the sheriff, some supplies were obtained through Surplus Properties and shelves were built in the basement of the building to store the equipment and supplies. Meetings were held in the old Fish and Game Department Building in Garden City. A hot-line system was set up so any sheriff in the state needing search and rescue assistance could call. Gene Stoker, Idaho Communications, later came into the organization and became the communications expert. Norman Holton and Earnest Coffin, who worked with the telephone company, and Ed Pefley soon joined the group.
Ted Strasser also became involved and the organization grew to about 20 members who were very close, worked hard and keep each other’s strengths, weaknesses and search and rescue capabilities.
Although the team became a valuable resource of trained volunteers, there was a reluctance on the part of some sheriffs to ask for its help. The didn’t know whether to call search and rescue; they didn’t want anyone to feel they were abrogating their responsibilities.
While the Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue Unit was organized in 1960, it was not until December 11, 1961, that the Unit was incorporated with Edward Madison Pefley, Fred Rico Weber, Theodore L. Strasser, Norman Lloyd Holton and Earnest Edwin Coffin as the original incorporators.
In the early 1960’s the Unit acquired its first 4×4 vehicle, a Jeep Station Wagon, which was purchased from State Surplus Properties with contributions from supporters. The vehicle required a substantial amount of rebuilding to put it in shape. Paul Kimball, a mechanic and a member of the Unit, did the mechanical work and replaced the engine with a Studebaker engine. Paul also did the silk screen for the Mountain Rescue emblem and Fred Johnson painted the signs. The Unit was by then affiliated with the Mountain Rescue Association which had officially organized on June 7, 1959, at a meeting held at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon.
Prior to the Unit acquiring its own vehicle, Gene Stoker used his 4×4 for missions as did Paul Kimball.
“Rescue”, the Unit’s present monthly newsletter, made its debut in January, 1962, as a quarterly bulletin. Fred Weber, one of the original members of IMSARU, was at that time Rescue Coordinator.
With a great need for funds for Unit operations, a Corn Booth, from which “hot, buttered ears of corn” were sold, was set up at the Western Idaho Fair, which opened for a five-day-and-night run on August 31, 1965. Located near what is now the present intersection of Fairview and Orchard, that was the last year the fair opened at that location, moving to its present location in 1966. The unit has operated the Corn Booth, which is its main source of funds, each year since then.
Twelve Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue members received their EMT certificates at a dinner held February 5, 1974, at North’s Chuckwagon. They were the first members to become EMT’s and were part of a class of 22 who had completed EMT training and passed the state certification. Those first Unit EMT’s were: Lou Florence, Charlotte Gunn, George Gunn, Rex Blakeslee, Roger Perkins, Ray York, Kelly Hand, Don Kemper, Jerry Schroeder, Rod Knopp, Rod Boslau, and Steve Alters.
In April, 1974, 11 IMSARU EMT’s started covering weekend shifts at Saint Alphonsus Hospital, now known as Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. The Search and Rescue Group offered their services to the hospital to keep current and to advance the skills obtained through the EMT training program, and by doing so to offer those skills to the community in a way that would be most beneficial. Originally scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays, the program has been extended to cover Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.