Summit County officials, Rep. Joe Neguse work to fund new search and rescue facility
Rep. Joe Neguse toured the Summit County Rescue Group’s current facility alongside the Board of Summit County Commissioners and Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons Sunday, Aug. 8, as the group works to open a new facility sometime in the near future.
“For the congressman to take his time to come over here and look at our facility and see what it is we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do it, that was huge for us,” Summit County Rescue Group spokesperson Charles Pitman said.
Once constructed, the planned facility will house all of the rescue group’s vehicles and equipment, and it would serve as the site of the group’s administrative offices and training center. It will cost an estimated $6 million to build, with most of the funding coming from the county and the group’s fundraising efforts.
Neguse has been working to supplement the effort with federal funds, as well. Last month, Neguse helped to pass $500,000 in funding through the House Appropriations Committee, and he hopes to have the money available next year. Local rescue workers appreciate the effort.
“Being recognized for all the work we’ve put in since 1972 and finally getting to the point where we have a new building in our sights is just awesome,” Summit County Rescue Group President Ben Butler said.
Neguse said he worked closely with local governments to determine which projects would need help from the federal government to get across the finish line, and the rescue group facility was the one Summit County targeted.
“We worked really closely with the Summit County commissioners … and a variety of others across our congressional district to identify projects that had a real need, and this project was very clearly something Summit County felt very passionate about in light of the growing need for search and rescue,” Neguse said in an interview with the Summit Daily on Sunday.
Summit County Rescue Group’s current facility doesn’t fit all of its current equipment, and having all of its gear accessible from one location will be a key upgrade. Adequate heating would be another improvement; the group’s current facilities weren’t insulated until recently, meaning sometimes when they would need equipment it would be frozen to the ground.
There is also no formal training space at the current facility, and the rescue group has had to branch out to use other facilities for training in the past. And while the group has 65 volunteers, its current spaces barely fit 30.
“I think the beauty of this new facility is it really can shorten our response times,” Pitman said. “It’s great for training (and) great for storing all of our equipment in one place, but in the end, our primary goal is to get to the patient as fast as we possibly can.”
Butler also said the new administrative offices would be key in running and directing missions as opposed to doing it from a trailhead that might be difficult to communicate from. The new facility will be adjacent to the current one at the County Commons outside of Frisco, which will remain intact throughout construction.
Butler said the design of the facility is close to being finished. Once the design is complete, the group will continue fundraising until it breaks ground in spring 2022. The aspect Butler is most looking forward to is a training wall in the facility.
“You can think of it like a rock wall, except it’s not all going to be vertical; it’s not going to have holds on it,” Butler said. “It’s going to be so that we can train for a high-angle rescue situation where a climber is stuck on a cliff. … We’ll have the ability to train inside 12 months a year in this facility.”
Neguse said it was clear to him that this was a project that would be of benefit to the community and its visitors given the high volume of search and rescue calls the group receives. He said now that the appropriations bill has passed the House, the next step is to ensure it gets through the Senate.
“This has been a dream for a long time,” Pitman said. “A lot of other counties have very nice facilities. I think we’re to the point now — because we are probably one of the top two busiest teams in the state — that we now get the appropriate facility for us to be able to handle the training needs we have.”
Butler said he is grateful to the community for being supportive of the project and the rescue group.
Neguse said the biggest challenge in getting this project included in the appropriations bill was trying to explain to his colleagues why funding for unique projects like this is necessary.
“So many of the other projects other members of Congress had submitted are very similar in nature; there weren’t many search and rescue facility requests,” Neguse said. “That’s, I think, consistent with the very unique community we represent.”
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