Formed in 1937, the organization currently provides cave, cliff and wilderness rescue services. Captain Brandon Powers, who has served with CHCRS for 10 years, explains what CHCRS does and why it is so critical:
“We serve the Tri-State area through technical expertise, search and rescue, and emergency incident rehabilitation services. We are one of the few rescue teams in the country with the skill level and experience to save lives both above and underground.”
Powers continues, “Different than your local fire departments, which provide many other lifesaving services such as firefighting and vehicle extraction, our skill and expertise is directly related to the wilderness and subterranean setting. It’s our primary focus, and we train extensively for these types of remote environments.”
Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Service is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations and support from Hamilton County for its funding. It typically responds to two to three calls per month, and deploys at the request of law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency management agencies. While its service area is defined as Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, Capt. Powers expresses that they go where their services are needed, saying, “Our expertise is occasionally requested outside our immediate service area. We have deployed to New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas and North Carolina, as well.”
There is no one typical rescue. Per Captain Powers, a ‘typical’ rescue situation for CHCRS could be anything from a hiker who needs simple assistance to the expedition caver who is severely sick and injured - miles into a difficult vertical cave system. We will respond to help if called, no matter the scale of the situation.”
In addition to answering emergency calls, the CHCRS team is sometimes requested at local trail races and other outdoor recreation events. A recent event where CHCRS was present is the annual “Stump Jump” race on Signal Mountain, which has a course with many narrow paths bordered by steep drops. Captain Powers explains, “We were asked to come and provide standby services for the race. Most of the events we provide standby for are in rugged wilderness settings. That setting is the environment CHCRS trains in. For this rescue team, it’s a perfect match for skill deployment and environment. We often get to cheer our teammates on as they compete in these races.”
If you are wondering if you will get a massive bill if you need this rescue services, the answer is no. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue Service does not charge for its services, which is possible only because their rescuers are all volunteers. Captain Powers says that while CHCRS provides training, rescuers provide their own gear. “Typically, our members have several thousand dollars’ worth of rescue gear that they keep in their go bags - ready at a moment’s notice.”
The approximately 40 volunteer rescuers on CHCRS’s roster have diverse backgrounds such as wilderness first responders, EMTs, paramedics, flight nurses, physicians, cavers, rock climbers, and trail runners. Captain Powers says the organization is fortunate to have a variety of volunteers, including many rope access technicians, rope rescue instructors, and individuals whose “day jobs” are related to rescue.
While additional volunteers are always welcome, there are many other ways to support the organization. Per Captain Powers, those who want to help CHCRS’s mission can “visit our website, donate, apply if you have transferable skills, say ‘hi’ if you see us out. If you are part of another rescue organization, let’s train together!”
Of course, the best case scenario is not needing CHCRS’s help at all. Captain Powers offers these tips to anyone planning to trek into our beautiful local wilderness settings:
- Leave an itinerary with family or a friend.
- Bring adequate food and water.
- Have a way to navigate: map, compass, GPS. Don’t always rely on your cell phone.
- Have a source of light with you in addition to a cell phone.
- Make sure to bring appropriate layers of clothing or supplies to stay warm.
- Lastly, if you have called 911 for help, please remain in one place. This will help with locating you faster.
For more information on CHCRS, go to https://www.chcrs.org/. Stay safe out there!
by Ginger Gibson