Grand County Search and rescue volunteers give extra | SkyHiNews.com

Grand County Search and rescue volunteers give extra

Anna Winkel
Special to the Sky-Hi News

Rescuers Jared Veenstra, left and Chris Ziegler assist their subject, fellow GCSAR member Mike Cronin, onto a litter as part of a complex high angle training exercise near Tabernash.

Grand County Search and rescue volunteer Chris Ziegler is lowering himself backwards over the edge of a vertical rock face near Tabernash. He is carrying 35 pounds of gear and is approaching his "subject," a semi-responsive rock climber with a possible neck injury.

The web of ropes suspending him is manned by a team of highly trained volunteers. Their radios chatter with vital information: Condition of the subject, location of the rescuer, and additional equipment needed.

In spite of the dropping temperatures and a frigid wind, the team perched on top of the rock outcropping quickly secures anchors for more lines. They determine that another rescuer will be lowered with a litter, which looks like a large metal sled. The two Search and Rescue volunteers will then strap the subject to the litter — in midair — and lower him safely to the ground.

Spotter Chris Laursen is below the scene, supporting the rescuers.

“What they need to have is a desire to give back to the community by serving our backcountry travelers and adventurers. We’ll teach the rest.”
Mike Leiser
Grand County Search and Rescue

"We're always trading off between speed versus safety," he says.

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The high angle technical rescue being performed is actually a training exercise.

Mike Cronin, the subject, gives a convincing impersonation of an injured climber. He weakly utters, "What happened? Who am I?" as Ziegler checks his medical condition.

Once on the ground, Ziegler, who has been in a harness on the side of the cliff for longer than 45 minutes, smiles and says, "Now that will help make you ready for the real thing."

Testing for re-certification

The training is serious, not only because it prepares the team for a real backcountry emergency, but also because it is one of five scenarios Grand County Search and Rescue will have to ace to be re-accredited by the Mountain Rescue Association. The other four are scree field evacuation, search scenario, winter evacuation and avalanche response. On the weekend of May 17-18, 25-30 evaluators from the Rocky Mountain Region of Mountain Rescue Association will be observing the team during scenarios in the field.

"It's a great opportunity for the team to sharpen our skills and show the rest of the region what we can do. It will give us the chance to really shine," says Jim Morris, Grand County Search and Rescue training director.

The standards are high. The Rocky Mountain region is comprised of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico and its teams are, according to their website, "the best of the best." The testing for Grand County Search and Rescue "is the most extensive of all of the Mountain Rescue Association regions in the nation and the model for international standards," Morris says.

"We need more stringent standards because of the terrain we encounter."

Toughest Job you won't Get Paid For

Grand County Search and Rescue is a 100 percent volunteer organization with no paid personnel. They respond to emergencies 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. The 36 active volunteers are dedicated. They come prepared, carrying packs that can weigh as much as 45 pounds in the winter time, full of gear to keep themselves warm and safe as well as aid in all types of rescues.

Some of the members are retired, but many are working full-time and juggling busy lives. They make time for the weekly trainings and respond to calls in spite of other demands. Sally Ryman, one of seven women on the team, works full-time and is pursuing her master's degree in social work. But the six-and-a-half year veteran doesn't consider quitting.

"I love the people. I mean, I like the work, too," she says. "But that's what keeps me involved — the friends I've made."

Search and Rescue will recruit a new cohort of volunteers this spring. They are hosting a series of community meetings in May for those who want to learn more about the organization.

"What they need to have is a desire to give back to the community by serving our backcountry travelers and adventurers. We'll teach the rest," says Mike Leiser, GCSAR field director.

Once the recruits are selected, they will attend an intensive weekend-long training June 21-22, the "Search and Rescue Academy." Trainings continue every Wednesday night through the summer. All training is free of charge. Radios and specialty equipment are provided.

"The time devotion to search and rescue is tremendous. We are always looking for new members," says Leiser.

Grand County Search and Rescue started in the 1970s but incorporated in 1985. They respond to between 40-50 emergencies per-year, on average.

Find out more

Attend any of the following community meetings:

Grand Lake Firehouse, 6-7 p.m., Tuesday, May 27

Granby Library, 6-7 p.m., Thursday, May 29,

Fraser Valley Library, 6-7 p.m., Friday, May 30

Kremmling Library, 6-7 p.m., Saturday, May 31

For more information, contact Field Director Mike Leiser at 970-531-0117 or mikeleiser@gmail.com

Grand County Search and Rescue by the numbers

Respond to 40-50 calls per year on average

Carry packs weighing 35-50 pounds, depending on weather

36 active volunteers currently involved

Respond to emergencies 24 hours/day, 365 days per year

$3: the cost of a CORSAR card, the fund which reimburses Colorado search and rescue teams for expenses

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