The Wild West - when a posse rode to the rescue and signaled success by firing guns into the air - is a thing of the past.
"We're beyond those days," Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue coordinator Sgt. Rich Martin said. "With cell phone technology, a majority of operations have gone from search and rescue to just rescue. Most times, we know where they are, we just have to get them out."
Over rough terrain, the Mounted Unit is particularly good at searching, Martin said, adding it's the unit that most needs volunteers right now, and also the one whose potential volunteers have shown the most resistance to tech training.
"They're not used to relying on GPS because they're used to the terrain and their horses know the way. But we need to have the coordinates of latitude and longitude to keep track of their tracks," Martin said.
By downloading and applying information to computer maps, he can formulate a plan.
"We're way beyond laying a map on the hood of a car," he said.
Several factors have caused the Mounted Unit numbers to decrease.
"Some people told me they never got called out so they don't see a need for mounted," said Bill Mason, new Mounted Unit team manager. "Some want to do searches but want no training, no affiliation, will not use GPS or take SAR classes. They just want to show up and search."
"I understand volunteers are putting out their own money, but meetings are how we stay current on everything," Martin said.
Volunteers must undergo Basic SAR academy training from the sheriff's office and know how to operate radios, cell phones and global positioning systems.
Mason related his conversation with one horseman who resisted the basic training.
"When I asked him how we'd know if he found someone or where he was, he said, 'I'll just shoot my gun in the air and you'll know,'" Mason said.
But the need remains. On a recent mission near Chino Valley, Mason fielded 10 mounted units from Maricopa County because only two were available from Yavapai.
Although the sheriff's office works with Yavapai County Emergency Management, local fire departments and the Forest Service to prepare for any emergency, volunteers play a huge role.
"When you talk to someone who's lost in the dark or stranded in the snow and hear the panic in their voice, you realize the volunteers have a valuable mission in the lives they save," Martin said.
Among the separate units are: Backcountry for technical work such as swift water and helicopter rescues; 4 x 4; Jeep Posse; Quad Group; Search Dog; Mounted; SCUBA; Air group; Verde Valley Search and Rescue; Southern YCSRT in Wickenburg; and Northern YCSRT out of Ash Fork. Several members belong to more than one group, with more than 300 volunteers all told.
During the Crown King Gladiator Fire this past May, the Jeep Posse, which specializes in fire evacuations, put in well over 2,000 volunteer hours in a two-week period.
Martin said people who regularly run their 4-wheelers for recreation are helpful for search and rescue operations because they are familiar with the territory.
"They know the areas better than we do," Martin said. "We rely on the specialty groups to cover terrain and respond quickly."
A busy specialized group is the Verde Search and Rescue, with many rescues of visitors to Sedona's Red Rock country.
"They know all the short cuts and social trails. In one week, they had three rescues off Cathedral Rock, within 500 yards of each other," Martin said. "I plotted it on a map and the Forest Service put up a new sign so people wouldn't follow the social trail and get stuck on a ledge."
He also keeps track of data such as minimum, mean and maximum distance traveled for each age group represented among rescue subjects, for every search in Arizona.
The information helps him plot future search grids. In 2012, 86 SAR missions took place in Yavapai County, while YCSRT teams also participated in Coconino, Apache, Maricopa and Pinal Counties.
"It's busy," he said.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer for any unit should first contact Martin at 928-771-3260 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org and he will direct them to the unit manager.