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Grand County Search and Rescue members save lives

Greg Foley
Mountain Rescue
Photos courtesy of GCSAR
Staff Photo |

Three years ago Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) initiated a new member training program called the SAR Academy. It is designed to recruit a small group of potential members and get them field ready within a few months. The annual program focuses on targeting individuals who are willing to volunteer, have the potential to become a valuable asset and have a high probability of sticking with us for at least a few years.

GCSAR invests a large amount of time and energy in our new members, so member retention is critical. We recently lost four of our newest members because they are moving from the county. These folks spent literally hundreds of hours training, helping with projects and responding to missions. After the better part of a year, they were fully integrated into the Team and had become truly valuable SAR volunteers.

Such is life in Grand County with our somewhat transient population. Family, employment, and personal life choices always take precedence over volunteering. We wish them well, but will miss them greatly.

Right now GCSAR has 31 active members. Our optimal number to provide good mission response and strong capability is about 45. This is because not everyone can respond to every mission. We need a full bench of trained volunteers, people with different backgrounds, different work schedules, different skill sets in order to provide the best search and rescue response quickly and efficiently.

Of our current roster, about half have been on the Team for more than five years, while six have been with us less than a year. We have had about 25 people come and go over the last three years. That’s normal for search and rescue teams across the state, especially in the mountain communities. Teams that draw on the Front Range metro areas have a larger pool of potential volunteers, but still have retention issues.

There has been discussion among SAR leaders of a paradigm shift – volunteers are becoming older, younger generations aren’t interested in volunteering or don’t seem to follow through long term. We are interested in volunteers from all age groups and especially people who are stable in the community.

You don’t have to be a technical climber or expert skier to participate in search and rescue, although advanced backcountry skills may increase your SAR capability. A lot of the things we do are much more mundane, like dragging a toboggan with an injured skier out of the backcountry or searching the forest for a lost child. The group that we rescue most are hikers. What is required for a field member is reasonable physical fitness, a comfort level with the outdoors and a desire to help people in trouble. We can also use people who can help out with fundraising, grant writing and social media.

For the most part, all of the new member training is provided at no cost by our in-house SAR experts. We train new members in survival, map and compass, team gear and first aid. All members will be familiarized with our ATVs, snowmobiles and rescue trucks. Training in basic through advanced search and rescue skills is an ongoing process. Specialized skill sets like technical rescue and avalanche search are developed over time.

Later this month GCSAR is providing a series casual meetings where we will present basic information and answer questions about our organization. Details about expectations, time commitment, training, personal equipment and costs will be outlined. The goal is to cultivate a group of people willing to participate in the SAR Academy weekend on June 27 and 28 as a first step to becoming a search and rescue volunteer. Meeting dates and times are posted on our website and Facebook page.

So if you have an interest in helping people in trouble in the backcountry, now is the time to check it out. I guarantee that you will help save a life if you join up.

Greg Foley is a member of Grand County Search and Rescue and has been a mountain rescue volunteer for 35 years. He can be reached by email at gfoley@grandcountySAR.com. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.


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