Grand County Search and Rescue welcomes new members
In May, Grand County Search and Rescue promoted a membership drive with a series of meet and greet presentations around the county. The goal was to cultivate a group of people willing to participate in the SAR Academy weekend as a first step to becoming a search and rescue volunteer.
About 30 Prospective Members attended the two day SAR Academy in June where they were presented with an overview of what it takes to be a member of the team and the different skill sets that are important in SAR work. There were short presentations on everything from the history of mountain rescue to how to tie a perfect bowline. There was hands-on training with patient packaging, team equipment and search techniques.
The requirements to become an entry level Field Ready Member are minimal and concentrate on each individual demonstrating their ability to function on a SAR field mission as a team player without becoming a liability to the mission or endangering themselves or their teammates. An important part of the process is getting to know and trust each person on the team. Prospective Members were assigned a mentor to facilitate the process.
In June and July we had a series of team trainings focusing on basic search and rescue skills – communications, navigation, first aid, patient transport. The new members were expected to attend most of these trainings plus learn team policies and procedures, take two online FEMA Incident Command System (ICS) classes and have their field pack inspected by their mentor.
Last weekend we held the mandatory Field Ready Exercise. The Prospectives were ready to demonstrate their expertise plus learn some new skills. After dividing up into three field teams, each with a couple mentors as observers, they had to follow directions to a location east of Fraser. Each team was issued radios, GPS units and topographic maps and would determine their own team leader.
Teams navigated an orienteering course in rugged terrain with map, compass and GPS. During the course they would perform a 100 foot wide grid search, scanning for clues that had been planted in the forest. About half way through they would find an injured subject that would need to be medically evaluated, packaged and then transported by litter to a waiting “ambulance.”
After another bit of cross country navigation they would finally get to the bivouac site. As a SAR volunteer you just never know when you might have to spend the night on the mountain. In order to be effective, each member’s field pack needs to include basic survival items and SAR gear, yet be reasonably light weight and compact. This pretty much precludes carrying sleeping bags, ground pads and tents. My personal summer rescue pack weighs 22 pounds, including some technical gear, food for two days, water and extra first aid supplies. Some members carry less, some more.
Everybody at the bivouac spent the night with the gear they carried all day; no sleeping bags or tents allowed. Tarps, space blankets, bivy sacks and plastic bags were strung up or laid out. During the evening there were demonstrations and practice with fire-starting and purifying water. Culinary skills were displayed, stories were told, friendships gained. At the end of the day (actually, when the sun came up) GCSAR had 20 new Field Ready Members.
A couple hours after the bivouac the pagers went off for a rescue at Lake Evelyn in the Byers Peak Wilderness. A local woman camping with her family had injured her back and was unable to hike out. Five of the brand new members were able to respond, hike in to Lake Evelyn and help carry the woman in a litter to where she could be picked up by Flight for Life. Maybe not quite a life saved, but I’ll bet it felt like it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.
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