Summit County Rescue Group looks to grow team as it plans for new headquarters
FRISCO — The hours are long, the pay is bad and the equipment is expensive, but for about 65 Summit County Rescue Group volunteers, it’s the best gig around.
Despite a social media presence that features helicopters, mountain vistas and snowmobiles in powder fields, the job is “completely unsexy,” group training officer Helen Rowe said.
“Eighty to 90 percent of it is trudging around in the dark, climbing Mount Royal,” she said.
It’s also dealing with a high level of exposure and being prepared for difficult situations, including body recoveries.
“We do see some hard stuff in the field,” Rowe said. “We are dealing with people who are having their worst day.”
A growing team
The all-volunteer team is looking to grow its ranks by about eight to 12 members this fall.
While the team has few criteria — be committed and a team player — it’s still looking for people who know their way around the backcountry.
Summit County Rescue Group is accepting applications for its fall 2019 class of new members. Find more information or apply at SCRG.org. Applications are due Sept. 10.
“We’re not an outdoor recreational club, so we’re not asking for people to come to us to learn to hike in the dark or to learn to do backcountry skiing,” Rowe said.
While fitness it important, being the fastest person on the team isn’t.
“We need our fast people, but we also need our endurance, strong people, so just because you can get to Peak 1 in 45 minutes doesn’t mean we need a whole team of those, because that’s not how mountain rescue works,” Rowe said. “In general, we have to go out for long periods.”
The ideal member would still have a smile on their face when they’re cold, wet and hungry, Rowe said.
The team has received about 140 applications over the past year, she said. Of those, Rowe expects about 40 will be interested in joining the team. After reviewing the applications, the group will winnow the list by about two-thirds, with the goal of adding eight to 12 to the team.
Those few finalists then dive into a 10-week training program that includes everything from navigation and radio skills to first aid and avalanche safety. It wraps up with a 24-hour outdoor survival test in November.
“At the end of training, I have to be able to tell the mission coordinators that these guys are … safe and capable in the field, so that they can help the mission and not become an issue to us,” Rowe said.
The time and financial commitment for members is significant.
“It’s like taking on a voluntary profession,” Rowe said.
The team trains weekly on Wednesdays plus the occasional weekend training and optional technical rescue trainings on Tuesdays. Once prospective members are cleared to head out on missions with the team, they’re required to attend a minimum of 15% of calls.
Summit County Rescue Group board president Brian Binge estimates the team responds to about 100 calls per year, many of those after dark and in less-than-ideal conditions.
Carrying an injured patient off the top of Quandary Peak, for example, is an 8- to 10-hour mission, often after a full day at work, Rowe said.
Last year, team members volunteered a total of 10,930 hours, including missions and trainings.
“We train hard, and we get a lot of missions,” she said.
A new headquarters
The team’s home base, known as the barn, is “falling apart at the seams,” Rowe said.
The building’s heating is spotty, sometimes leaving vehicles and medical supplies in the cold. And the training loft seats 15 or so people despite a team of about 65.
“We can’t event fit in here,” Binge said.
A new barn is part of Summit County’s master plan for the County Commons in Frisco, and the exiting structure will be demolished.
The new building will be shared with the Summit County Water Rescue team and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees search and rescue. It would house the team’s four rescue trucks, five ATVs, 10 snowmobiles and various trailers and gear.
The design phase of the project is expected to kick off late this year or early next year, and Binge said he hopes the project will break ground in summer 2020.
Some money from the 1A Strong Future Fund that is slated for county infrastructure will go toward the new building, but the project will be paid for primarily through fundraising.
That effort will fall largely on the team, which gets about 80% of its annual budget through grants and donations, primarily from people it rescues.
In the fall, Binge said the team plans to launch a fundraising campaign, which aims to raise about $1.5 million over the next three years.
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