Grand County Sheriff Steve White (left) and Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis recently presented the 2017 Utah Search and Rescue Member of the Year Award to Frank Mendonca (center). [Photo by Nadi Ardalan]

At a recent Grand County Search and Rescue meeting, Grand County Sheriff Steve White and Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis presented the 2017 Utah Search and Rescue Member of the Year Award to Frank Mendonca.

He also received the Rex L. Huntsman Memorial Award. The award, presented jointly by the Utah Sheriff’s Association and the Utah Search and Rescue Association, is awarded to a search and rescue member who makes a significant impact on the profession.

Mendonca, a 25-year veteran and the longest-serving member of Grand County Search and Rescue, joined the organization in early 1992 and currently serves as vice commander and training officer. He was appointed training officer two years after joining and has held that position for most of the past 25 years. He also served as commander for three years in the late 1990s. He spent 18 years with the Moab Fire Department and was a founding member and former chief of the Castle Valley Fire Department. He has lived in Castleton for over 43 years and owns Perpetual Images Photography.

According to GCSAR Commander Jim Webster, Mendonca has responded to more than 300 incidents in the past 10 years. An expert in navigation, mapping and tracking, he has well-developed skills in water rescue and high-angle rescue, and was a member of the Grand County Helicopter Short Haul Team in the 1990s. Over the last 10 years, he participated in more than 220 training sessions, demonstrations and scenarios. He prepared and presented many of those sessions himself, or ensured that other speakers and instructors were available and prepared.

Over a period of several years, Mendonca was one of a team of GCSAR officers who developed operational standards for the group, based on nationally recognized practices in the search and rescue profession. After being published, these standards were modified and adopted by the Utah Sheriff’s Association, and have been adopted by other Utah SAR teams.

“None of us do this for the awards, but I believe quite a few of us are in it for the rewards,” Mendonca said, upon receiving the award. “If you’ve ever been at a trailhead when we’ve brought someone’s friend or family member out, you know what I’m talking about. Not all of our calls are exciting or result in a life saved, but I believe there are several each year that do just that.”

“There are people walking around out there who would not be walking around if it weren’t for those of you in this organization,” he added. “If you’ve saved just one life, you’ve changed the world. There are several people in this room who can say that they have changed the world, over and over and over. You should all be very proud of that.” 

The Rex L. Huntsman Memorial Award includes a large traveling plaque that stays with the receiving county for one year. Names of award recipients from the past 35 years are engraved on the plaque. Mendonca was presented with the framed SAR Member of the Year Award, a smaller plaque for the Rex L. Huntsman Memorial Award, and a belt buckle.

Long-serving search and rescue team member fêted with awards