Summit Rescue Group shows prowess during evaluation
May 17, 2009
LOVELAND PASS ” Rescue workers and Summit Sheriff’s deputies swarmed Loveland Pass on Saturday ” attracting the attention of rubberneckers ” for what ultimately would be deemed a successful recovery operation.
“They all ended up being dead,” said Summit County Rescue coordinator Dan Burnett. “But that’s OK because they were dummies; they were mannequins.”
He and about 35 other volunteer members of the Summit County Rescue Group spent the weekend proving their skills to about as many volunteer evaluators from across the Rocky Mountain region.
As part of Mountain Rescue Association, the Summit group must pass recertification every five years to keep its membership status. The group has been preparing for the event at least every weekend for the past six months.
Evaluation categories include avalanche burial, winter evacuation of an injured party, high-angle rescue and more.
“In Summit County, we have a really fortunate situation in that we have a lot of depth,” Burnett said. “We have a lot of senior people that have been doing search and rescue for 15 or more years.”
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One of seven coordinators, he’s been with the group for 29 years. The group has existed since 1972, and it has 50 active and nine probationary members.
With an increasing number of people stepping up to volunteer every year, the qualifying requirements may soon become more tough, said Anna DeBattiste, the group’s volunteer public information officer.
The Loveland Pass operation Saturday involved an artificial avalanche scene, with one survivor and three buried victims. There was also an evacuation using snow anchors.
The group was evaluated on ability to rig the gear, provide medical treatment and communication ” as well as organization and leadership.
Earlier that day, they were called to a search scene at the Lowry Campground near Dillon Reservoir. In this scenario, a 10-year-old girl was missing, her father was drunk and some pesky media people (evaluators in character) were interfering with the scene.
Burnett said all three tests were passed “with flying colors.”
Sunday involved a high-angle rescue with two victims along with a scree evacuation. The rescue group passed both tests without a problem. The scenario occurred at White Cliffs, near Interstate-70 between Frisco and Officer’s Gulch.
The rescue group receives calls in all seasons and weather conditions.
Last winter wasn’t nearly as busy as that of 2007-08.
“We had a really quiet winter,” DeBattiste said, adding that there’s seldom a ski season without one or two avalanche rescue operations. “Hopefully people are more educated.”
Summit and Pitkin counties lead the state for their rate of avalanche burials, she said.
But this winter, Summit’s only avalanche-rescue call occurred in December on the Eagle County side of Vail Pass, where a lone man was injured.
The team provided support for Vail Mountain Rescue and the man survived.
DeBattiste said preventative education efforts have been consolidated and increased in the past year and a half. Two free avalanche rescue clinics in the past year brought 38 and 25 participants.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office often reports to the scene of a rescue operation to provide support.
DeBattiste said the deputies would have been involved in any criminal investigation during Saturday’s Lowry Campground scenario.
However, the evaluation focused on the Summit Rescue Group.
Burnett said volunteering can be a truly inspirational experience.
“If you ever in your life get a chance to volunteer in something that you’re good at ” and it really helps people ” step up and do it with all your heart,” he said Saturday. “That’s what I saw today.
“I don’t think that search and rescue is any better of a volunteer thing than, for example, working for the hospice,” he added.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.