By KAREN BRAINARD
The experience of being lost overnight in the Colorado outdoors led Monty Bell to where he is today: an expert in the field of search and rescue and the recipient of a state award recognizing his efforts.
The Ramona resident received the California State Award for Search and Rescues (SAR) at the 2011 National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), held in Reno, Nev.
Even as a board member of NASAR, Bell said the award totally caught him by surprise.
“I never won anything in my entire life, not even a lottery ticket. It was very overwhelming,” Bell said.
Bell has dedicated over 15 years to search and rescue in numerous capacities.
He is a past president of the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA), an international organization, and attends sessions of the California State Sheriff’s SAR coordinators in Sacramento as a representative for MRA and NASAR.
Bell, a lead SAR management instructor for the state, instructs search and rescue management courses for the law enforcement division of the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA).
“Monty Bell has done an outstanding job in taking active SAR leadership roles as a professional volunteer for the citizens of San Diego County as well as the entire state of California by dedicating his time and expertise to the profession of Search and Rescue,” stated Matt Scharper, California State Search and Rescue coordinator and deputy chief of the law enforcement division of CalEMA.
“Monty has taken SAR volunteerism beyond simple training and responding to local SAR missions,” continued Scharper. “Monty exhibits a clear commitment to make SAR better for his county, for the state of California, for our nation.”
The 20-year resident of Ramona grew up in Rancho Bernardo and graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in 1982. He lived in Poway in the late 1980s before moving to Ramona.
He was involved in Boy Scouts and attained the rank of Eagle Scout.
“To me, search and rescue is sort of like Boy Scouts for adults,” he said.
As an Eagle Scout, he figured he was well prepared for outdoor activities. But he discovered that was not the case when he became lost on a deer hunting trip with friends in Colorado about 22 years ago.
“It was the most miserable experience,” he recalled.
Bell explained that he and his friends were looking over a meadow and decided to spread out, planning to meet later at a certain place. When he returned to that spot, he found his friends had already left. (They later told him they thought he had headed back to camp ahead of them.)
“I couldn’t get my way back. It was dark,” he said.
In addition, it began to snow and he was completely unprepared.
“Everything you’re not supposed to do, I did it. I really thought I was not going to make it,” Bell said.
Bell noted that he always took his survival kit when he went on such trips, but never checked inside in bag. When he did that night, he found the matches no longer worked, the batteries for the flashlight were dead, and the food was gone.
Always when he grabbed the bag, Bell said, he never expected to use it.
“I was an Eagle Scout. I should have known better,” he said. “It shows it can happen to anybody.”
When the sun came up, Bell said he found his way to a road where he was picked up by a person who was out looking for him.
When he received his award at the NASAR conference, he was described as the only SAR instructor who ever got lost.
Now, he said, it’s important for him to give back to the community and help others. His volunteer work has turned into a hobby, he said.
Locally, the San Diego Country Estates resident said his work has included rescues on the Cedar Creek Falls trail before it was improved by the U.S. Forest Service.
“I’m actively participating in the local area, but I want to reach more people and that’s why I teach for the state,” said Bell.
When he teaches about 40 deputies how to manage a search and how to look for people, Bell said those deputies are taking that information back to their counties or locales and hopefully the information reaches more people.
The search and rescue is all volunteer and Bell said he has used vacation time for such work.
Now, he’s finding himself with a lot of extra time for his hobby and a new type of search — looking for a job.
In his professional life, Bell most recently worked as a vice president of human resources for a major food distribution company but found himself a casualty of a major downsizing.
Taking a positive view, Bell said the job loss gives him more time for search and rescues, which he will do as long as he can maintain the funds for such missions.