by Josh Stilts
Northwest Business Monthly
Bob Cameron knows what it feels like to be lost. When Cameron turns 74 this April he will have spent more than half a century aiding those who are lost.
As honoree of the 2009 “Lifetime Achievement Hero” award from the Red Cross, Cameron may have been overwhelmed by the acknowledgement, but he deserved it. For more than 50 years, Cameron has volunteered thousands of hours throughout the United States ensuring people were found and rescued safely. Time and time again, Cameron risked his own life in search of missing persons, to rescuing injured hikers and climbers as well as participating in the extraction of bodies as a result of aviation disasters and wilderness incidents.
When Cameron was a kid, he went to visit his grandfather in British Columbia and ended up lost for four days in the wilderness.
“It’s truly a blessing I’m alive,” Cameron said. “I knew I was meant to do something.”
Career and Passion
Cameron’s career in finding the lost started during his military service in the U.S. Air Force as part of the crash rescue unit. He eventually found himself in Montana where his passion for rescue eternally cemented.
For 15 years Cameron served as a special deputy sheriff and expert trainer of English bloodhounds. Cameron and his canines worked on more than 150 cases throughout Montana and Idaho.
“It was important to me to bring to light the ability of these dogs,” he said.
During the 1970s, Cameron was instrumental in court cases involving blood hounds and their eventual witness testimony.
“A dog doesn’t have the ability to lie,” he said. “They either know something and can tell if someone’s scent is or was there, or they don’t.”
Whistling While He Works
Dogs aren’t the only rescue tool Cameron is known for. In the past 14 years Cameron and his business partner have established their business, Whistles for Life, as the only whistle you’ll need.
Among the official licenses, Whistles for Life is the official whistle of Smokey the Bear, the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Search and Rescue of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and the Coast Guard. Each licensed whistle has its own logo.
CERT coordinator Bob Jacobson wrote, “The CERT logo really adds a sense of pride for the members and identifies them with a great program. We feel that the whistle provides and excellent signaling device for any scenario the CERT member might find themselves in. It also gives them a sense of security.
At 120 decibels, trained dogs, like the bloodhounds Cameron worked with, can hear the whistle even under large debris because of its three-chamber design.
“If you can breathe, you can blow our whistle,” Cameron said. “What most people don’t realize is you can only shout for so long. Eventually, whether because of dust or lack of moisture, the vocal cords become hoarse and you simply can’t shout anymore, which is why we donate so many of our whistles.”
During the rescue efforts in Haiti last month, Red Cross members used an estimated 1,000 of Cameron’s whistles to notify one another when someone was found.
“Any whistle is better than no whistle,” he said. The problem is most whistles are made from cheap polypropylene, which can easily break.
“Don’t give people a toy,” he said. “[Rescue] whistles are a tool. They should be made of the best materials possible.”
Cameron’s whistles have also been sent across the globe. After hearing of the atrocities women were suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan he knew they needed help quickly.
“Sound is the number one deterrent of crime and the number one factor in finding lost victims,” he said. “The whistles don’t just make [search and rescue] easier, they make everyone’s job easier.”
The next addition to his whistles will be to fit them with three new options, he said. Customers will be able to choose from an oil-filled compass, an L.E.D. light with replaceable battery or a thermometer.
As an inventor, Cameron has more than 20 patents. His Rhino Grip, a heavy-duty multi-purpose tarp clip made from a fiberglass-filled nylon material that resists cracking even at 65 degrees below zero, can be found at Hardware Sales and Grainger.
This article appeared in the February 2010 edition of the Northwest Business Monthly, http://www.nwbmonline.com. It was reprinted in the Spring 2014 issue of IPMBA News.