At the very root of Whistles for Life is a passion for rescuing people in times of crisis. This passion all started with Whistles for Life’s founder, Bob Cameron, who is the creator of the Whistles for Life safety whistle and has devoted his life to search and rescue efforts.
Bob Cameron was born and raised in western Oakland, CA. His dedication to Search and Rescue (SAR) was inspired by two big events early on in his life. When he was 14, he heard that two girls went horse riding in the mountains outside of Oakland, but when they returned, there were two horses and only one girl. Bob and his friend knew the mountains very well, as they had spent a lot of time exploring that area, so they decided to help in the search effort. After hours of searching, Bob located the missing girl. As he watched the girl being reunited with her family alongside the deputies on horseback, his excitement for SAR was sparked.
The second incident occurred when Bob was 18 while he was visiting his grandpa in Avola, BC, Canada, a heavily wooded area. One day, he was out exploring the woods and ended up getting lost for three days. Bob made his way back home by following a frozen creek until it met a larger river, and then followed the railroad tracks near the river bank until he came to his grandpa’s ranch. After spending three days and nights in the wilderness becoming frostbitten and hungry, Bob knew that he didn’t want anyone else to have to experience the same thing.
Bob enlisted in the Air Force with the Aircraft Rescue and Air Police division, where he went on countless search and body retrieval operations. He spent three years in the Air Force, and then moved to Idaho. After growing up in Oakland, he longed to live in the mountains and was inspired by a friend who had recently moved to Coeur d’Alene. This is where he decided to begin his career in SAR. He became active with SAR at his local sheriff’s office, and then spent a lot of time near the border of Idaho and Montana as a Special Deputy Sheriff. During this time, he went on hundreds of SAR operations where he reunited families, caught escaping criminals, and sometimes performed more difficult tasks such as body recoveries.
During these rescue operations, Bob and his team often had to split up. As a result, they needed a way to quickly communicate with each other from a distance. Originally, they used an industry standard whistle, but ran into a major problem: there was a bird in that area that made the same shrill sound. At times, they would hear the whistle thinking it was just a bird, while at other times, they would hear the bird thinking it was the whistle. Additionally, the whistle didn’t have a pea to break up its sound, so the high pitch frequency easily got lost in the wind.
Bob’s initial idea to solve this dilemma was to communicate by shooting a gun in the air. Two shots let others know where they were, and three shots meant the message was received. However, ammunition was expensive and depleted quickly. Therefore, Bob decided to design his own whistle that could be used by his team and other SAR professionals, and as a result, Whistles for Life was born.
The first whistle Bob designed was a two-chambered whistle, each with a pea to break up the shrill sound it made so it could be heard over wind, roaring waters, or shaking trees deep in the woods. Bob improved upon this design with his second and current whistle, which combines the benefits of his original design and competitor’s whistles. This whistle has one large chamber with a waterproof pea, and two small pea-less chambers, one on each side of the main chamber. The main chamber creates a loud staccato sound at 120 decibels (dBs), while the two secondary chambers create separate, omnidirectional high-pitched sounds.
Once he had perfected his final design, Bob and his team immediately began using the whistle. Then other SAR teams saw the whistle’s capabilities and effectiveness and began using the whistle as well. Bob’s whistle is now used by safety professionals all over the United States.
The whistle is not the only successful SAR-related product that Bob has invented. While living in Montana, Bob designed a para-foil balloon that could rise above the tree lines to identify lost victims. Following his time in Idaho and Montana, Bob moved briefly to Kirkland, WA, to help the FBI and Boeing engineers design torpedoes used in undersea warfare. His Silver Mylar balloons were implemented within the torpedoes to help identify their location when they surfaced. After this project, Bob moved to Bellingham, WA, where he worked for SAR in Whatcom County for 15 years.
Bob believes so strongly in Whistles for Life because he knows from first-hand experience that sound is the #1 factor in being found. For example, in the 1980s, he went on a rescue mission in Idaho to find a nine-year-old boy and his dog who were lost in the woods. After five days of searching through treacherous terrain, his team was ready to give up. But before they packed up to go home, Bob went to an outlook point over the river bank and shouted the boy’s name one last time. He then happened to hear the quiet reply of the boy, “I’m down here,” and they were able to save him. If that boy had been equipped with a whistle, he could’ve quickly and easily alerted the SAR team that he was in need of help and communicated his location. Aside from survival, this whistle can also be used to improve safety in a variety of situations including during natural disasters, at the workplace, or even when walking home alone at night.
With over 55 years of experience in search and rescue, Bob Cameron’s livelihood continues to revolve around his passion. Bob now lives in Bend, OR with his wife, where he is still surrounded by mountains and water, but slightly warmer temperatures. He continues to volunteer for SAR and the sheriff’s office in that area as well. With a lifetime spent finding lost victims, Bob now works on projects like Whistles for Life to give victims the best chance of being found. He knows that something as small as a whistle could be the difference between death and survival.