The Idyllwild Community Center Speaker Series next features Lee Arnson, longtime Riverside County Rescue Unit volunteer. Arnson said he would talk about the history of the unit (formed in 1961), what is required of each volunteer and the many awards and accolades the team has received for its difficult rescues and ongoing service. He said he would also give a practical demonstration of the equipment each team member must have and be skilled in using.

RMRU is a volunteer unit under the jurisdiction of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Volunteers are constantly on alert, through pagers, to come to the aid of stranded, lost and injured hikers, rock climbers and others who come to the county wilderness areas for recreation and who run into trouble. Although about 95 percent of its rescues are performed within Riverside County, RMRU has also deployed for lifesaving missions into Mexico, California’s High Sierras and Nevada.

Members must provide their own equipment at their own expense. Arnson estimated the initial outlay for equipment could easily pass $3,000 and grow over time. Members must be trained and certified in three areas: search and tracking; technical snow and ice; and technical rocks. Volunteers are also trained annually in helitack – being deployed from helicopters onto difficult terrain during rescues.

Asked why, after 19 years, he continues to volunteer, Arnson said, “I still do it because volunteerism is what makes this small town tick. I feel it’s critical to be out there and serve as part of a team that saves lives.” He noted it’s a long tradition of Idyllwild and valley residents to serve in this unit. “Men like John Holt and Kent Steele served as my mentors. Many of us serve to continue in their tradition and of the six men who founded this organization in 1961.”

Arnson stressed that it is the camaraderie of the team that makes serving so meaningful for him and other members. “You go out there as a team to save lives and point people in the right direction,” he said. “It gets in your blood.”

Arnson said he would bring his RMRU fall/winter pack and show attendees all the equipment needed and what it is used for.

Arnson speaks at the Creekstone Inn at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 19. A wine and cheese reception precedes his talk. Both are free to the public.

For more information about the history and missions of RMRU, including the most recent rescues, see RMRU is funded by donations.