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SAR to form swiftwater rescue team

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POLSON – The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has had a dive team for a number of years, but a group of search and rescue volunteers are trying to start a swiftwater rescue team. 

Steve Bowman, Gabe Ouellette and Rick Reeves completed two days of training in May on Swan Lake with Swan Mission Search and Rescue. 

“This would be for surface rescue,” Bowman said, citing possible rescue scenarios of a raft flipping or a fisherman wading too far out into the water. 

Bowman, who moved to Lake County three years ago from Havre and joined Lake County Search and Rescue two years ago, said volunteers completed training that consisted of eight rescue scenarios on a 15-mile float on the Swan River. 

Techniques learned include a “live bait” swimmer rescuing a victim with both being pulled to shore with a rope; a “wedge” technique that involved six swimmers being pulled to shore; a shore-based rope rescue that involved no swimmers and a raft-based rescue.

The Swan Mission SAR has had certified swiftwater rescue members for about 10 years, according to president Carol Field. That team covers the Swan River in Lake County from the Missoula County line north to the Ferndale bridge, she said. 

A Lake County team would likely be used on the lower Flathead River below the SKQ Dam, Bowman said, although rapidly rising creeks could also come into play. 

Donations needed

Lake County SAR, a 501(c)3 non-profit, is looking for $8,500 in donations to start a swiftwater rescue team. 

The funding would be used for rescue and safety equipment such as: dry suits, life jackets, helmets, ropes and rigging, throw bags and a raft with a rowing frame. 

That equipment would be enough to fund a five-person team, Bowman said. He notes that two additional volunteers plan to complete the training next year. 

Any funds raised above the $8,500 would be used for equipment for shore-based rescue personnel, he said.

To donate, go online at or search for “Lake County Swiftwater Rescue Team.”

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