Summit County Search and Rescue’s headquarters gets a makeover and welcomes new command vehicle
When members of the Summit County Rescue Group get deployed to save stranded backcountry travelers in the winter, the last thing they want is a snowmobile that won’t start or has its tracks frozen to a trailer. Unfortunately, that’s what tended to happen on especially cold days in the un-insulated garages at the county commons where the group stores its vehicles and gear.
Last month, however, workers completed a $60,000 overhaul of the facility that included full winterization, meaning rescuers will be able to save precious minutes when heading out on their more than 70 missions a year.
“It was just a battle hacking away at the ice,” said Mark Watson, head of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office’s special operations division. “Now we can just pull the snowmobiles out, hit the button and go. It gets our response time a lot lower.”
The cold temperatures inside the shed could also make washing vehicles and equipment in between missions impractical because they couldn’t fully dry out. Rescuers also couldn’t store temperature-sensitive medication and equipment, forcing them to lug around extra gear.
“This project is a real game changer for the Summit County Rescue Group,” SCRG president Ben Butler said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Dec. 8. “Having a four-season, insulated facility will enable us to respond to backcountry emergencies more quickly, prolong the life of our equipment and enhance our year-round training opportunities.”
Like many rescue groups in the High Country, SCRG has seen its workload steadily grow over the years, fueled by Colorado’s booming population and the throngs of weekend warriors who come up from the Front Range to play in the mountains.
“Some of the older hiking books talk about that as a fairly easy trail,” SCRG spokesman Charles Pitman told the Summit Daily after another helicopter rescue last year. “It is not an easy trail. There are cliff bands, it’s steep, it’s fractured rocks and the rock is very loose.”
SCRG is an all-volunteer group with more than 60 members. Although it’s a nonprofit, the group operates under the authority of the sheriff’s office.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a strong working relationship between the sheriff’s office and the rescue group,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said at the ribbon cutting. “We’re excited to make these improvements to the Rescue Barn, because they’ll translate to immediate improvements in search and rescue operations.”
Eventually, SCRG is expected to need to a larger full-time facility. In the meantime, the improvements to their several garage bays near the Summit County Senior and Community Center will provide a step up. The newly winterized facility will also allow the group to train year-round.
During Friday’s re-opening ceremony, SCRG also unveiled its new rescue coordination vehicle, which serves as a mobile command post and transports a snowmobile, an ATV, equipment and rescued people.
It replaced a command vehicle that had logged more than 100,000 miles and was formally donated on Friday to Park County Search and Rescue.
The new vehicle cost around $75,000 and was paid for with money SCRG had saved over the years as well as a $20,000 donation from Breckenridge Grand Vacations.
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