Whitcomb: Why I chose to join search and rescue. It started with a puppy. | SkyHiNews.com

Whitcomb: Why I chose to join search and rescue. It started with a puppy.

Bill Whitcomb
Mountain Rescue

Why Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR or just SAR)? Why me? For me it started with a puppy.

My wife and I had recently adopted our third Vizsla, a little guy named Ruger. We observed him doing something we later learned was called air scenting. Laura was intrigued and went on a mission to learn how you teach a dog to find people and how you would utilize the dog for that purpose. We learned that search dogs are often attached to a Search and Rescue team and in Colorado responsibility for Search and Rescue lies with the County sheriff. In Grand County the Sheriff utilizes a separate team to perform this function. We were connected with one of the team’s dog handlers. We learned being a member of the team was a prerequisite and we were invited to a thing called “SAR Academy” in the summer of 2012. Early on we realized that developing a search dog is a huge investment of time and money and it just wasn’t in the cards for us at the time. Ruger has since found another calling and is still a happy member of our family. But that’s just where my story starts.

A couple hours into a two-weekend academy we learned that Grand County Search and Rescue is an all-volunteer organization non-profit organization. We learned that not only do you work for free but you need to buy different clothes, special gear, medical supplies, food, etc. and devote many Wednesday evenings and weekends to training. We were told if we stuck with it we would get a spiffy red shirt, a red hat and a used jacket. We were warned that when you do get called to action it will often be in the middle of dinner, bedtime or some other inopportune moment. We went back the next day anyway. So what was the upside?

I left out one thing we were also told that first weekend. We were told if you stay with it long enough you will help save a life. The first lesson of SAR is no one person can save a life but the team can. This team is the primary reason I am over five years into this adventure. Our team is made up of some of the most fascinating and genuine people you will meet, doctors, engineers, young people just out to see the world, business owners, EMTs, clerks, waiters, retirees or you name it. The thing is when we go to work as a team none of that matters, it doesn’t even come up. Who leads, who follows, who does every job is decided by who is available and who is most capable and appropriate for the task at hand. When the pager goes off and we arrive on scene everybody’s job is to serve the citizens and guests of Grand County. We all have the same objective; achieve the best possible outcome for our mission subjects and those that care about them.

So five years and some months later everything we were told has come true. I still have the hat, the shirt and the jacket, they offered me a new one but I’m kind of attached to the old one. We have helped save lives, we have helped find the lost, and we have helped injured and sick people. We have even had the honor of helping bring home loved ones to their final rest when that was the only thing that could be done. Along the way I have spent hundreds of hours studying and practicing backcountry medical care, emergency management and search theory to name just a few topics. Some of the most physically and mentally challenging moments of my life happened during a mission. Some missions have left me feeling exhilarated, others have haunted me for months but I feel privileged to have been part of every one.

Bill Whitcomb is a support member of Grand County Search and Rescue. He joined in July 2017.


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