The Arizona Whistle Initiative

Mare CzinarNovember 22, 2023
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Members of Arizona Foothills 911
Members of Arizona Foothills 911

“We didn’t expect things to go wrong,” says Thomas Finn about the ill-fated hike up to Skull Mesa in Tonto National Forest on Labor Day 2022. “We were just [six] friends out for fun and fellowship. The trail was confusing, washes looked like trail and we got off course… It took too long to get to the top, and by then it was over 100 degrees. That’s when we ran into problems with water and heat.”

Tragically, those missteps would lead to the death of Finn’s friend and hiking companion, Dr. Evan Dishion, a 32-year-old Valley neurologist and father of a baby girl.

Valley medical technician Rainer Schasteen was also on the trek. “We had a false sense of security because we were in a group,” Schasteen says. “I’ve learned… you need to be responsible for yourself.”

Schasteen emphasizes that search and rescue crews will not be mad at you for seeking assistance. “If you think it’s a good idea to call for help, do it,” he says. “I was eventually able to get cell reception [on the Skull Mesa hike], and we were rescued by helicopter. But it was too late for Dr. Dishion. One or two more water bottles could have made a difference.”

The organization’s 120-decibel safety whistles
The organization’s 120-decibel safety whistles

Dishion’s demise – and two other recent hiker deaths in the Cave Creek area – are what inspired Valley activist Sunny Parker to create Arizona Foothills 911, a 501(c) nonprofit organization that uses social media to inform and rally communities around Cave Creek and the North Valley in emergency situations. During wildfires, floods or other natural disasters, they will support first responders, assist with pet and livestock evacuations, assist in search and rescue operations and keep residents up to date on safety.

To prevent tragedies, two solutions seemed obvious to Parker. First: educate hikers. Second: give them a big, loud whistle. Thus, the Arizona Whistle Initiative was born. “A whistle worn where you can easily reach it [and not kept in your pack] can save your life when batteries die or you’re out of cell phone range,” Parker says.

“We plan to hold events throughout the year,” she says. “Check the organization’s website or Facebook group for updates.”