Local rescue unit feels financial crunch

With each mission, finances get a little tighter for the Tacoma Mountain Rescue Unit. For the past 54 years, the nonprofit volunteer organization has responded when climbers and hikers go missing. It has relied on grants, donations and, most of all, the sale of survival kits to fund its efforts.

However, unit president Mark Cooksley says sales of the iconic yellow tin can kits have lagged in recent years.

“Our reliance on the kits has gone away,” Cooksley said. “And right now our account is dwindling. ... We are starting to hit the critical point in terms of cash reserves.”

Cooksley believes sales have dropped for several reasons, including the increased sale of survival kit sales by other organizations.

Unit members are expected to supply their own gear, meals and even transportation to search and rescue missions, Cooksley said. However, the unit still needs funding for training, maintenance on its aging truck and two snowmobiles, gear (especially ropes) and property taxes and utilities for its building.

In addition to responding to rescues, the unit provides free safety training to groups and organizations, said board member Chris Berryman.

Many years ago the club put money in a mutual fund to pay for future capital expenses such as a new truck, Cooksley said. But as the rest of the country has found out, the last few years have not been a good time to cash in on investments.

The organization is counting on donations, which it accepts through its website at tacomamountainrescue.org, and the launch of a new fundraising program.

The club is currently manufacturing a new, smaller survival kit geared toward children. While sales haven’t started, Cooksley hopes the new kit will become a dependable source of income.

“We will never hesitate to take a mission because it taps our reserves,” Cooksley said. “It is our reason for being.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497