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Colorado search and rescue teams gather in Summit County for annual training

Ryan Delano practices his rappelling technique during a search and rescue training course Friday, Sept. 24, near Windy Point Campground.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

Search and rescue teams from around Colorado gathered in Summit County this weekend for the annual SARCon event, an opportunity for members to familiarize themselves with new tools and techniques, learn about recent advancements in the field, and share tips and tricks with rescuers from different agencies.

More than 120 volunteer rescuers attended the three-day event this year — hosted by the Colorado Search and Rescue Association and Flight for Life — taking part in technical rescue drills, medical training and a number of lectures and seminars taught by some of the area’s most experienced experts.

“People come from all over the state for this conference,” said Summit County Rescue Group Public Information Officer Anna DeBattiste. “… It’s a great opportunity for teams to get together, network and practice working together. When we have mutual aid calls, we have teams working together, and different teams have different styles, procedures, equipment and different ways of doing the same thing. This is an opportunity for us to learn from each other and get on the same page.”



On Friday, Sept. 24, rescue workers split up into groups for different field sessions: Some went to Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge for medical training alongside Flight for Life, while others ventured up a small hiking trail off Swan Mountain Road near Prospector Campground to practice their technical high-angle rescue skills.

SARCon brings together search and rescue workers of all skill and experience levels. For long-time veterans, the event provides a chance to talk shop with other seasoned rescuers, experiment with new techniques to bring home to their own agencies and share tips with newbies. For newer members, it’s a great opportunity to learn the ropes — literally — in a safe, low-stakes environment with plenty of expert feedback.



“I brought three of my newest, youngest people here,” Dolores County Search and Rescue spokesperson Keith Keesling said. “There’s a vast wealth and years of experience here at SARCon every year, and it looks like they’re soaking it up. … You don’t ever want to learn on a mission because, here especially, you might have an anxiety level of one because you have instructors, and you know you’re safe. Throw an anxiety level of 10 in, and you make mistakes. … It’s always low pressure up here; that’s really the great thing about it.”

Instructors say that right and wrong is often subjective in the search and rescue world, so the training allows participants to experiment with different strategies and tools and find what works best for them and their respective teams.

“There’s a thousand different ways to skin the mountain-rescue cat, and very few of them are wrong,” said Tom Wood, a member of the Alpine Rescue Team out of Evergreen who has served as one of SARCon’s instructors for the past eight years or so. “But there are some that tend to work better than others. … So we really like the cross-pollination aspect of an event like this where we can take folks and expose them to different ways of doing things using different tools.

Brian Taylor, second from right, teaches a search and rescue training session Friday, Sept. 24, near Windy Point Campground.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

“You don’t have to say, ‘That’s wrong’ or ‘That’s terrible.’ You can say, ‘That’s really interesting, and I’m going to take that back to my team and see if that’s something we can do to help save lives better or make our rescuers safer.’ Even though it’s fun to play with ropes, at the end of the day, the goal is to get people better at saving lives and to make them safer while they’re doing it.”

In addition to the hands-on training, participants also got to take their pick of classroom sessions in different medical, command and technical topics. Sessions teach rescue workers everything from how to take decisive action during medical emergencies to the capabilities of various aircraft for search operations to the efficacy of social media in fundraising and recruitment.

This year’s keynote presentation was given by Jerad Hoff, a cellular forensics technical specialist with the Civil Air Patrol, who provided a look at how the group was working with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to expand the use of cellphone data analysis for search and rescue efforts.

Martin Barnett demonstrates climbing safety basics during a search and rescue training class Friday, Sept. 24, near Windy Point Campground.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

“Probably the coolest thing we’re doing is having the (Air Force Rescue Coordination Center) talking about cellphone forensics,” DeBattiste said. “… We can get into that phone, find out if it’s on, where it was last used and where it last was. … It’s a great tool to figure out what a last-seen point might have been.”

Overall, SARCon participants say it’s a fun and valuable experience.

“It’s just an opportunity to learn more and engage in training,” Teller County Search and Rescue team member Logan Haag said. “We do a lot of interagency or multiagency missions, so it’s nice to be able to get out and meet people when you’ve got to do stuff outside of your county. It’s super fun.”


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