BETHEL, Alaska — A volunteer search and rescue group in western Alaska is looking for more recruits and more support from neighboring villages after being bogged down with an increase in calls for service.

People unable to return home are increasingly calling the Bethel Search and Rescue for help, making it difficult for the group to keep up with the demand, KYUK-AM reported Thursday.

“We get nightly calls, every night for people who are intoxicated,” said Mike Riley, the group’s president. “They come to Bethel, they consume alcohol and they try to return back home.”

The higher demand on the group came after the city of Bethel allowed the sale of alcohol. The first liquor store opened in Bethel in 2016 after nearly four decades of sales being banned.

Before the store opened, Riley said rescuers were called to alcohol-related incidents about once a month. The calls increased to about twice a week last winter and increased again this year.

While the group has about 80 active members for extended searches, the same five-person team is responding to the nightly calls. The members of this team have day jobs and families.

“The calls are coming in from 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.” Riley said. “We get up, get ready and get out and do our rescue.”

With Alaska’s frigid temperatures, lives could be lost if the rescuers don’t respond, said Perry Barr, a member of the group.

“Our current membership is getting long in the tooth, so to speak. They’re getting older,” Barr said. “And we need some of the younger people in this community to step up and volunteer so we can train them, spend time with them; they can respond with us.”

Information from: KYUK-AM,

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