Colorado’s volunteer search and rescue teams are overwhelmed and there are fears it’s going to get worse
It’s been 23 years since Colorado lawmakers last crafted legislation to help the state’s now 2,800 search and rescue volunteers. And with increasing calls stressing overwhelmed volunteers, they could use a bit of help.
Help could come with a bipartisan bill making its way through the Capitol that would explore potential funding options to better equip and train search and rescue teams. The proposed legislation would also develop programs to support the mental health of volunteers who respond to all calls for help from Colorado’s backcountry.
Senate Bill 130 directs the Department of Natural Resources to study issues challenging the state’s 46 search and rescue teams and to develop a plan to help them. The bill, introduced last month, is sponsored by a coalition from the high country made up of Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Reps. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida.
As Colorado’s population grows, teams are responding to more calls. Search and rescuers already are compiling data to highlight the challenges behind the increasing workload. The preliminary information on their membership, missions, costs and recruitment — gathered by the Colorado Search and Rescue Association — reveal about 2,800 search and rescue volunteers spend about 500,000 hours responding to about 3,600 calls for help annually.
And those calls for help are increasing every year, with search and rescue teams near highly trafficked recreation areas seeing calls for help double in the past five years. Some teams are responding to more than 500 calls a year.
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