Summit Search and Rescue Group: Summit’s a good place to get lost
Glen Kraatz joined the Summit County Rescue Group 13 years ago after his wife told him to get a hobby. He’d just moved to Summit County after retiring from a career in oil in California.
“My wife said she married me for better or for worse, but not for 24/7, so I better find something to do,” he said.
Since then, Kraatz’s volunteer work has taken him on high-intensity missions responding to calls for help from climbers who have fallen from cliff faces and heart attack victims on high-mountain peaks. He’s helped retrieve snowmobilers whose trips went awry and avalanche victims in the backcountry. He was also part of a 14-hour overnight operation on Quandary Peak.
The Summit County resident is part of an elite group that responds to about 80 emergency calls per year from people who are lost, stranded or hurt in the outdoors.
Kraatz shared the history of the 40-year-old volunteer organization with a full house as part of the lunchtime lecture series at the Frisco Historic Park and Museum on Wednesday. The museum’s director, Simone Belz, said the series has been attracting crowds of about 50 since it began in June.
“It’s gone wonderfully, and really adds to what we are already doing here at the museum,” Belz said. “It provides another educational experience. It animates more of our history with photography and, of course, our great presenters and their storytelling.”
In its 40 years, the rescue group has established a quality reputation, Kraatz said during his lecture.
“I always tell people if you are going to get in trouble in Colorado in the woods, do it in Summit County,” he said.
It was a tragic plane crash that occurred near the Eisenhower Tunnel in the fall of 1970 that spurred the formation of Summit’s search and rescue team, Kraatz said.
“The University of Wichita was flying their football team to play a game in Utah. They had landed in Denver to refuel and one of the pilots thought it would be neat to give them a scenic tour of the mountains.”
Unfortunately, when the pilot neared the Continental Divide he realized he was too low. Without enough time to react, the plane went into the mountainside, Kratz said. “It was another indication that maybe we better have a more formal rescue group.”
In 1973, Summit County Rescue Group was incorporated as the sixth mountain rescue team in Colorado. Today, the group consists of about 65 active members, seven of whom are mission coordinators. The mission coordinators, including Kraatz, rotate in an on-call role and act as the initial point of contact to assess 911 calls for backcountry assistance.
The group works closely with the sheriff’s department, but acts as a separate entity.
“We are fortunate in this county that the sheriff has developed enough confidence in us that we essentially run our own missions,” Kraatz said.
They also partner with the Summit County Water Rescue team, local ambulance crews, Flight for Life and the National Guard High Altitude Training Center in different rescue scenarios, Kraatz said.
The rescue workers have acquired a variety of high- and low-tech “toys” that aide them in missions, ranging from ropes and pulleys to a yellow Snowcat, which the volunteers nicknamed “Sponge Bob square cat,” snowmobiles, ATVs and an ambulance that’s been converted into a makeshift incident command center.
Although this equipment can be helpful, the bulk of the rescue work comes down to the skills and manpower of the volunteers — including man’s best friend, Kraatz said.
“A well-trained avalanche dog, in an area the size of a football field, could find a couple of buried individuals within five or 10 minutes,” he said.
Summer is the busiest time for the group, which is accredited by the Mountain Rescue Association, Kraatz said. “We’ve been out five times in the past three or four days.”
The Summit County Rescue Group is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at no charge to its rescue subjects. For more information about the rescue group, visit http://www.scrg.org.
The free Frisco Historic Park and Museum Lunchtime Lecture Series takes place Wednesdays at noon through Aug. 28. For more information, visit the historic park at 120 Main St. or call (970) 668-3428. A full lecture series schedule can be found at http://www.FriscoHistoricPark.com.
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