Helping Hands: Stuck on a mountain? Call SCRG
summit daily news
If you’re ever lost in the wilderness, or injured and stuck at the top of Quandary Peak, the Summit County Rescue Group could be your literal life-saver.
The group was formed in 1973, after 45 Summit County residents assembled to talk about the need for a local search and rescue organization. SCRG was incorporated as the sixth mountain rescue team in Colorado.
The nonprofit organization is all-volunteer, and falls under responsibility of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. Its mandate is to assist people in distress in the backcountry.
The group has about 65 members on its roster, all of whom go through a rigorous six-week training process before they can head out into the field. Subjects studied include first aid, communications, rigging and the operation of snowmobiles, ATVs and emergency vehicles. Volunteers must have their CPR certification and advanced first aid training. Members meet once a week, and have an all-day training session every other Saturday.
Jim Koegel, SCRG’s public information officer, said many members of the team continue on with training outside of the organization. He said there are about 20 EMTs and six paramedics who volunteer with the group. Inside of the SCRG, volunteers tend to specialize in one of the subjects studied during training, like: snow work, technical rigging, medical, or motorized ATVs and snowmobiles.
“People tend to find a niche that they’re most interested in, and that’s what they put most of their training time into outside of what is offered in our weekly meetings,” he said.
Koegel, who has been volunteering with the group for 15 years, said he puts in about 1,500 hours a year.
“It’s an avocation for many of us,” he said. “It’s very, very rewarding.”
Group coordinators get about 120 calls a year, which are relayed to them through the Summit County Communications Center. Koegel said if leaders see the need to respond, they put an alert out to all members. Standard response is about 10-25 people, and the group ends up attending to about 50 emergencies a year. During the summer, these include lost or injured climbers, hikers and mountain bikers. In the winter, they can consist of backcountry skiers and snowboarders, snowshoers, snowmobilers, ice climbers and avalanche reports. Missions vary in time from a few hours to multiple days. There is no charge for their services.
SCRG is headquartered in Frisco. They have an equipment barn, and a meeting and training facility near the Emergency Services Building. They have five emergency-response vehicles, a snowcat, ATVs and snowmobiles, and two tow-behind evacuation wagons. Flight for Life helicopters are available to the team for backcountry removal of critical patients. The group is funded mostly through donations, and receives a small stipend from the sheriff’s office that pays for fuel and other necessities.
The SCRG is a certified member of the Mountain Rescue Association, which is a national group comprised of mountain rescue teams from across the country. Koegel said the Rocky Mountain region has some of the most technically competent teams in the whole country.
“We have the most stringent testing standards of any mountain rescue in North America,” Koegel said.
To be certified through the national association, SCRG must test every five years in five disciplines: search, avalanche, snow evacuation and rocky slope and high-angle evacuation. Peers from other teams in the region create example scenarios – like a hiker stuck on a cliff face – and then evaluate the SCRG’s performance during the rescue. If the group doesn’t pass, they could lose their accreditation.
Koegel said the quality of the Rocky Mountain region’s rescue teams is exceptional.
“That’s one of the things that makes Colorado unique,” he said.
Koegel said members like helping people and enjoy the excitement and challenge the group offers. But, he said the members who join purely to assist others usually don’t end up sticking around. The hard work and year-round training proves to be too much for some people.
“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘I’d rather have a doctor who likes fixing things, rather than a doctor who likes helping people?’ I think the same thing is very true in what we do. It’s great to want to help people, but that’s not going to make you good at helping them.”
While some missions are more physically challenging, Koegel said others – like having to extricate a dead child while the parents watch – are more emotionally demanding. He said sometimes it’s hard to stay neutral.
“You can find challenges in every event you do,” he said. “When someone calls and they’re in distress, you always want to help them to the best of your ability.”
In his 15 years of membership, Koegel said one of his most satisfying missions was evacuating a handicapped boy and his father from a cliff in a rainstorm.
“That was very rewarding,” he said.
Sgt. Cale Osborn from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office oversees the rescue group’s participation. He said the scope of services they provide to the community is immeasurable.
“We’re thrilled we get to be a part of their organization, as much as they’re a part of ours,” he said. “(The SCRG) is a strong benefit to our office and our community.”
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