BBCC volunteers lend expertise to county search and rescue group

James Leland, Byron Noel, Kenniston Vogel, Rafael Villalobos
(left to right) BBCC student James Leland, Unmanned Systems Operations Coordinator Byron Noel, student Kenniston Vogel and Transforming STEM Pathways Grant Director Rafael Villalobos Jr.

MOSES LAKE — A small group of Big Bend Community College staff and students have taken on the task of using their specialized skills and talents to help their community out in a big way.

BBCC Unmanned Systems Operations Coordinator Byron Noel, Transforming STEM Pathways Grant Director Rafael Villalobos Jr. and students James Leland and Kenniston Vogel are all members of Grant County Search and Rescue (GCSAR), a volunteer group that provides assistance to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and other local first response agencies.

Noel and Leland were recently voted in as president and vice president of GCSAR, respectively.

There are currently about 10 to 15 other active volunteers in the group. They typically meet at least once a month, although they may meet more often to accommodate field training and general skills development.

Members also spend personal time completing FEMA emergency management classes, CPR and First Aid certifications, and other relevant training.

“It’s a significant, ongoing commitment,” said Leland.

However, Noel added they are all willing to take on that commitment because of their common desire to help their community.

“It’s a great way for us to tie our expertise into our love and passion for our community,” said Noel. “And I think it speaks to the kinds of people here at Big Bend. They are passionate about their community, and although they are kept busy with families and jobs, they are still willing to give their time.”

Through their roles at the college, both Noel and Villalobos Jr. bring years of drone experience to the table. Drones are a valuable tool for law enforcement in general, but are especially helpful in the search and rescue world.

Leland is also a skilled drone operator. He is currently pursuing an Unmanned Systems degree at Big Bend, but also runs a drone photo and video business with his wife.

In addition, both Leland and Vogel have military backgrounds, parts of which carry over to search and rescue operations.

Noel said he is looking forward to building the group over the coming years. Their next tasks involve expanding their current team and developing specialty units, such as dive rescue and recovery, ATV/4×4 and equestrian units.

Noel said he is also looking forward to strengthening the relationship between the college and local law enforcement.

“The Grant County Sheriff’s Office looks forward to working with GCSAR in the future on search and rescue calls in the county. The Sheriff’s Office is always in need of divers with all the water we have in Grant County,” said GCSO Chief Deputy Darrik Gregg. “I am excited to see the numbers grow with GCSAR, and hope they will be able to add more people so they can respond when we call on them to help with call outs.”

For more information, or to learn how you can get involved, visit the Grant County Search and Rescue Facebook page HERE.

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