NEW PORT RICHEY (FOX 13) - It's midday in a thick patch of woods in the Bay Area. And it's hot. The sun beats down on men and women as they beat the bushes in a mock search to save lives.
Nearly two years ago, Pasco County's Volunteer Jeep Search and Rescue Unit formed to help support the sheriff's office. Volunteers supply their own specially equipped vehicles to search the wild, sometimes rugged environments of Florida.
"When we're on call, when we're doing a search and rescue, it just gives you an unbelievable good feeling knowing that you're going to help somebody," Rick Ford, a volunteer with the unit, told us.
On call at a moment's notice, they go where others can't. But on this day it's a series of exercises designed to simulate real-life situations. As the group worked to winch out a truck stuck in the mud, team leader Corporal Arthur Madden explained how the training works.
"The Pasco County Emergency Operations Center puts on CERT training for us, and that's a 24-hour course broken up into usually two days a week, a few hours a day," Madden explained.
Search and rescue volunteers aren't what you'd call “weekend warriors” who are into this for fun and recreation. It takes commitment to assist deputies in the field, and training is mandatory.
To date, volunteers have participated in two searches; one in Hillsborough County with multiple agencies searching for a lost child, and another involving an elderly man who had gone missing.
"The more eyes you have when you're out looking for a child or for someone who's missing, the better off you're going to be. So their unit is a tremendous help when searching areas," Detective Ryan Shadrick explained.
When asked why they do it, it's clear a bond has formed.
"We have a common goal. We all want to give back to the community because we're helping the community where we live, and we're also helping those in need who can't help themselves," Ford said.
And by giving back to the community, they just may be saving lives.
To find out more about the Pasco Search and Rescue Team and learn how to join, click over to https://pascosheriff.com/jeep-unit/