By Linda Kor
The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office is looking at ways to further utilize its deputies and expand their expertise.
One of those ways will be to reinstate a county dive and fast-rope rescue team in the near future. According to Chief Deputy Jim Molesa, it’s been a number of years since the county had its own team, and instead has relied on other teams in the surrounding counties to respond to incidents when needed.
The types of incidents that would require the use of a rescue team with those skills can vary from cold-water rescues in the many lakes in the county to rope rescues from the immense coal piles at Cholla Power Plant or incidents such as the one that occurred last month at the Meteor Crater when a tourist decided to scale two fences in order to get down to the center of the crater, where he fell down a 100-foot mine shaft. The man sustained a broken arm and leg from the fall, and was rescued by a Coconino County rescue team after a 12-hour effort.
According to Molesa, five deputies are working to become fast rope certified for the county. “In order to take part on the team, they need to come to the table with their dive certification already completed and approved by the State Fire Marshal. It takes about four to six months to complete all the certification.
“This, of course, is a part-time need along with their regular duties. Given the nature of the work, the requirements for physical strength and durability are strict, higher than what’s required to be certified as a deputy,” explained Molesa.
With the county as large as it is and deputies assigned throughout the entire region, the sheriff’s office is still determining best response time scenarios. Molesa said there will likely be an equipment trailer centrally located, likely in Taylor, so that a rescue team member arriving at the scene first can assess the needs of a given situation, such as manpower and equipment needed. Once that determination is made, a reservist with the sheriff’s office would outfit the trailer and transport the equipment to the site of the incident.
In addition, the sheriff’s office recently received approval from the Navajo County Board of Supervisors to cross-commission deputies so that assistance can be offered to law enforcement agencies on the Navajo Reservation. “We are looking to augment those other agencies, not interfere with their work,” stated Molesa, who added that the agreement still requires final approval from the Navajo Nation Council before it can be implemented.
His office also plans to have a staff member deputized as a U.S. Marshal to be able to access both state and federal lands in order to issue warrants.
Along with those efforts, the department continues to take part in the Major Crimes and Apprehension Unit, and works in conjunction with other local law enforcement agencies to provide additional training for the deputies. Being conscious of budgetary restraints, these agencies work together to provide free training to the deputies and officers in the county; training provided by fellow officers who excel in a given field.
“It costs the departments nothing. No one is paid to provide the training and no one is charged for it. Since it stays local, we don’t have to pay for meal stipends, gas or motels,” explained Molesa, who added that by expanding training, the department is able to expand the services available to the community.
By Linda Kor