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Summit County Rescue Group facing another record-breaking year

Summit County Rescue Group volunteers help to evacuate a hiker with an injured leg Wednesday, June 16, in Frisco.
Photo from Summit County Rescue Group

Summit County Rescue Group is on pace for yet another record-breaking year as the volume of rescue calls continues to increase. After a relatively quiet April and May, which is typical for the group, call volume has returned to near-daily calls for assistance.

On Wednesday, June 16, rescue group volunteers helped to evacuate a hiker with an injured leg near Frisco. On Thursday, June 17, the team responded to a hiker with an arm injury on the Lily Pad Lake Trail in Frisco. On Friday, June 18, it was a knee injury on the North Tenmile Creek Trail. On Saturday, June 19, the group helped a hiker with a head injury near Mohawk Lake south of Breckenridge. On Sunday, June 20, rescuers responded to a missing paddleboarder at Dillon Reservoir, and on Monday, June 21, the group helped another injured hiker, again on North Tenmile.

“I’ve been puzzling over it because other teams, aside from possibly Alpine (Rescue Team) and (Rocky Mountain Rescue Group), are not having the surge that we are,” public information officer Anna DeBattiste said. “… All I can speculate is it just has to do with where people are going. We’re in that I-70 corridor, we’re closer than Vail and Aspen, and we have a lot of great recreational opportunities here in Summit. We’re seeing just a ton of traffic.”



The growth pattern has been developing for years. Between 2014 and 2017, the rescue group averaged 88 calls per year, according to DeBattiste. Calls for service ballooned to about 123 in 2018 and to about 185 in 2020, a new record.

The rescue group is on pace to break its call record again this year. There have been at least 98 calls for service to date in 2021, compared to about 65 at this time last year.



“Last year was far and away our busiest year, and this year we’re a good 40% to 50% ahead of last year,” spokesperson Charles Pitman said. “… Starting around March, most of the mission coordinators are getting two to four calls during their on-call rotation, which is a week. All of a sudden starting in June, they’re now averaging eight and nine calls on a rotation. I think this is going to be the pattern for the summer.”

Pitman attributed the increase in calls in part to the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that people may still be hesitant to take long trips or deal with large crowds and are choosing to take their adventures to the backcountry instead. He said Summit County’s temperate summer climate might also be driving folks to the area — 80 degrees is a more preferable hiking temperature to 100 degrees in other places of the country.

Graph shows an increased number of calls for response made to Summit County Rescue Group in 2020 and 2021 compared with previous years.
Graphic by Taylor Sienkiewicz / tsienkiewicz@summitdaily.com

DeBattiste said the rescue group has also been seeing more calls during the weekday as people with remote work schedules try to beat the crowds. Otherwise, the only discernible pattern appears to be more individuals heading out to hike, climb and enjoy the area’s recreational amenities.

“We’ve been talking from a statewide perspective about how COVID is changing the patterns of when people are outside recreating,” DeBattiste said. “We used to expect high call volume on the weekends and low midweek. Anecdotally, I am seeing that changing. We kind of predicted that. When people are working from home, they have more flexibility.”

While mission coordinators may find themselves overwhelmed occasionally, especially when dealing with simultaneous or overnight calls, officials said rescuers are well prepared to carry the load and continue providing quality service.

There are about 65 individuals on the all-volunteer team, including 10 mission coordinators. Pitman said as long as 12 to 15 rescue workers respond to calls, the group can usually handle whatever they’re tasked with. If more rescuers are needed than can respond locally, the group will make a mutual aid request to nearby rescue groups, though Pitman said that’s rare.

“I think the morale is excellent,” Pitman said. “We’re noticing a very good turnout on all of our calls, and everybody is still enthusiastic. They’re motivated, and they want to help whenever they can. … We have a really dedicated group of people. I’ve seen people who just got off a 12- or 15- or 20-hour shift, and we get a call, and they’re showing up. That’s the type of people we have.”

While the occasional backcountry user falling or twisting an ankle is unavoidable, rescue officials urged community members to take every precaution to prevent unnecessary calls for response.

“Know before you go, be prepared, carry the 10 essentials, educate yourself on where you’re going, and tell someone where you’re going, what your plan is and what time you’ll be back,” DeBattiste said. “Be specific, and have a plan for what happens when you’re overdue.”

The Summit County Rescue Group is an all-volunteer nonprofit funded through grants and donations. For more information on the group visit SCRG.org.

10 essentials of backcountry travel

• Navigation: map, compass and GPS system

• Signaling: whistle, mirror, cellphone, surveyor tape

• Light source: headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries

• Nourishment: water and high-energy food for 24 to 48 hours

• Shelter: lightweight waterproof tarp, bivy sack, parachute cord

• Fire building: waterproof matches, fire starters, knife, saw

• Personal protection: medications, first-aid kit, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug repellent

• Weather protection: extra clothing, rain gear, hat, gloves, heavy-duty plastic bag

• Winter add-ons: avalanche beacon, probe pole, shovel

• Rules to follow: Never go alone, always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, stay on the trail, know how to use your equipment, and remain calm and stay where you are if lost.

Source: Summit County Rescue Group

 


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