Summit County Rescue Group aces high-flying test, maintains status as one of the nation’s premier teams |

Summit County Rescue Group aces high-flying test, maintains status as one of the nation’s premier teams

Summit County Rescue Group member Zach Wade (left) transferring a volunteer 'patient' (center) between rope systems while an evaluator (right) looks on during accreditation testing at White Cliffs on Sunday, June 3.
Pauli Novak

From 1950 to 2017, avalanches killed 276 people in Colorado. That fatality count is by far the highest in the nation; nearly double the 152 fatalities from the next-ranked state, Alaska. Rescue attempts in the Rockies are also more frequent, more dangerous and require the highest level of preparation and readiness from any rescue team. That makes Summit County Rescue Group one of the busiest and best rescue teams in the nation, which showed when the group passed important re-accreditation tests this past weekend with flying colors.

The Mountain Rescue Association, considered the nation’s pre-eminent search and rescue accrediting group, conducts accreditation tests for member groups every five years. Obtaining MRA accreditation is completely voluntary, but its rigorous standards make earning it akin to being accepted to the “Top Gun” school for best-of-the-best fighter pilots.

Teams must basically be perfect when they run through five different rescue scenarios, said Rescue Group spokesman Charles Pitman.

“It takes practice, practice and more practice,” Pitman said. “Some teams don’t pass if they fail on one or more scenarios. It’s very intensive and intense.”

Fellow MRA rescue groups from Colorado and New Mexico sent team members to evaluate the group’s performance. The team could have failed with the most minor of slip-ups, like not properly tying a knot during a cliff-side, high-angle rescue scenario.

Other tests include the avalanche scenario, in which the team must locate three “bodies” and render assistance; a search scenario where the rescue team must locate a missing person in a designated area; a scenario to properly evacuate an injured person with an up-haul system; and a scenario to properly lower a patient in a litter using a rope and anchor system.

Preparing for the accreditation testing began in January. Team members practiced the scenarios three to four days a week to get ready for this single weekend. The Rescue Group passed every single scenario they were put through.

“The intense dedication and commitment that our teammates showed was extraordinary,” said Ben Butler, a group leader. “Training often went for two and a half to three hours at a time, and occurred over several months. But the results speak for themselves and we couldn’t be more proud.”

Now that the Rescue Group is accredited for another five years, the team will repay the favor by sending team members to help evaluate other rescue teams during their accreditation. The group works under the authority of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons has nothing but good things to say about the team’s performance.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our Summit County Rescue Group on completing and passing their evaluation and re-accreditation,” FitzSimons said. “This is a testament to their inherent skills, training philosophy and always remaining at the ready. Our community is so lucky to have a team of such professional dedicated men and women who are willing to risk their lives to save yours. I am humbled to stand beside them and serve.”

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