Pierce County Search & Rescue now 50 years old


Colleen Slater

Grant and Adelle Smith during training at Gateway Park

Grant (Smitty) Smith, Tacoma mailman, organized the Explorer Search and Rescue (ESAR) team in Pierce County in 1966 with an Explorer Post of Boy Scouts.

The Key Peninsula park known as 360 Trails became the site March 5 for Course 4 recertification. Smitty, Operations Director for the county organization, arranged the setup and camped with participants at Gateway Park over the weekend.

Course 1 teaches trainees how to read maps and use a compass, producing associate members who can participate in evidence searches in Pierce County pending the arrival of someone with an emergency worker card.

Course 2 includes working in teams, including locating nighttime compass points, producing support members who can attend urban missions in Pierce County.

Course 3 tests endurance, locating about 15 sites in a specific order. Graduates are Conditional Brushmonkeys, who may attend all Pierce County missions.

Course 4 teams practice patient assessment, litter packing and carrying, and do a mock search and rescue. Completion of all four courses qualifies trainees to be Brushmonkeys, who may attend all search and rescue missions.

Adelle, Smitty’s wife, is a retired teacher who lived in Longbranch most of her public school years. Old-timers around here will recognize her as Adelle Paul: her father had a pharmacy in the Longbranch Mercantile. She went through the training with two of their three sons and another mom, opening the doors for women to become Brushmonkeys.

Adelle never went on an actual search, but drove participants to and from locations, operated phones and radios, and relayed information to the parents.

“We’ve had returnees with their kids and even grandkids,” said Smitty, “but today’s younger generation aren’t ‘joiners.’”

They now have more adults than teens in the program.

When a plane with skydivers crashed in 2007 at White Pass, their team of five volunteers were all over 80, Smitty said.

Students who are members of ESAR are allowed to go on searches for two days if their grades won't suffer, though some teachers frown on their release in spite of the good it does students, Adelle said.

“A lot of our boys went on to be park rangers, detectives and attended military academies,” said Smitty. “One was a deputy sheriff, one flew a Coast Guard helicopter, and we even have a full bird colonel in the Pentagon.”

“We only did wilderness locations to begin with,” said Adelle, “but after Ted Bundy and the Green River stuff, we expanded to evidence searches, missing kids and now even missing Alzheimer people.”

One memorable search was for a missing 20-month-old boy who wandered five miles from home in Belfair the day after Christmas. Eight hundred volunteers from ESAR, Belfair and surrounding areas looked for him. Smitty was the leader. The boy was found safe 30 hours later.

“What bothers me the most are the kids we’ve never found,” says Smitty.

Smitty is pleased to have served in this special organization for over 50 years.