Foley: Don’t hesitate to call SAR
July 19, 2016
Last Saturday around 5:30 p.m. we got an Incident Commander (IC) page concerning a missing party on the Idlewild trail system near Winter Park. I was available and called the Deputy assigned to the incident who was with "Ken", the husband of the missing woman. Working together on the phone we gathered some basic information.
"Glenda" was last seen at 11:30 a.m. that morning when she decided to separate from the several couples who were taking a casual hike from the "red gate" at the end of Mulligan Street. Her plan was to take a break and then hike back up the trail about a mile or so back to their condo in Meadowridge.
Glenda was from the Denver area, 50-years-old and in average physical condition. She did not have her cell phone with her, and was carrying a small bottle of water, no pack or food. The Deputy had obtained a photo of Glenda taken before the hike which he texted to me. Glenda was wearing brown shorts, red short-sleeve shirt and a tan sun hat. Glenda was a diabetic and did not have her insulin with her.
When the rest of the group returned to the condo a couple hours later, Glenda was not there. Ken and the rest of the group spent the next several hours looking for Glenda, retracing their travel route on bike and foot and also driving around roads in the area. When this search was unsuccessful, they dialed 911.
With this information it was an easy and quick decision for me to activate Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) for a missing person search. The key decision factors were that Glenda was overdue by at least four hours in an area close to roads and homes on a well-traveled and signed trail system. She was not dressed to stay out through the night. Her diabetes was a critical factor. There was a possibility that Glenda could suffer a diebetic emergency which, untreated, could be life-threatening.
A full team page was issued requesting team members respond to the red gate. I headed up to meet with Ken and establish our command post.
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A quick look at a map gave me a working hypothesis that if Glenda had missed a turn, she would end up down in the Ranch Creek drainage where there was a maze of trails with mixed public and private property. Two deputies were already cruising the roads in the area looking for Glenda. After meeting with Ken and getting a few more details, including the fact that his group was still actively searching, I waited to see what kind of turnout we would have from GCSAR.
By 7 p.m. I had a total of nine team members on scene, plus two search dogs. The rescue truck with ATVs had just arrived and we had obtained a scent article for the search dogs. A two-person hasty team on mountain bikes had headed out from the red gate with instructions to ride the trails down toward Ranch Creek. We were interviewing hikers and bikers as they came off the trail.
That's when Ken got a call from one of his friends. He was informed that Glenda had been found in downtown Winter Park.
Dispatch was advised, stand down pages were issued, the hasty team was recalled. Adrenalin levels subsided. Everyone is relieved that Glenda was found and OK, especially Ken. As we were packing up he asked if there was going to be a charge. I had answered this question hundreds of times.
"Ken," I said, "We are all volunteers and there is never a charge for search and rescue."
Every professional, volunteer search and rescue team in Colorado works under the premise that there should never be charge for search and rescue. We do not want the public to hesitate to call for search and rescue because they fear financial consequences. We would much rather be called early and get turned around when a situation resolves itself rather than respond to an incident that has become exponentially more serious.
By delaying a call for help the situation can become worse for the victim(s). Injuries can become life threatening, medical issues like diabetes are a concern. Weather and terrain can have an effect and darkness is always looming. Lost persons can become more difficult to find as they travel further from safety.
Additionally, delaying that call for help can endanger the volunteer rescuers. Search and rescue operations in bad weather at night are inherently more dangerous and difficult.
I never did talk to Glenda about her afternoon. Maybe she was lost, maybe she changed her plan or maybe it was just a communication issue. No matter. Our crew went back to their Saturday evening activities knowing that even though we didn't save a life that night, we were in position if it would have come to that.
Greg Foley is a member of Grand County Search and Rescue and has been a mountain rescue volunteer for 36 years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.