Garfield County Search & Rescue relies on volunteers, community support | VailDaily.com

Garfield County Search & Rescue relies on volunteers, community support

Lindsay DeFrates
Special to the Post Independent

A welder, a teacher and a retired mine worker walk into the woods … or wait, was it a dentist, an IT guy and a brand-new dad?

No, this is not the opening to a corny joke, but rather an accurate description of what happens every time Garfield County Search and Rescue deploys.

Women and men from a huge variety of professions and experience, who have lived on the Western Slope anywhere from six months to 60 years, volunteer their time, expertise and energy in one of our county's most essential, but often unsung, resources.

With the continued growth of recreation tourism in our valley, the dedication of GarCo's Search and Rescue team is more crucial than ever. They rarely make headlines, though a pair of steep terrain rescues in Rifle and Glenwood Springs last summer did get some ink.

These highly trained volunteers are the safety net for locals, tourists and many small businesses in our valley.

At the ready

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In fact, every outfitter, guide and gear shop that helps people find adventure and fall in love with mountains relies on GCSAR. From the Flattops to Thompson Divide, from Hanging Lake to the Bookcliffs, winter, spring, summer and fall, if things go pear-shaped, then someone will answer their phone on a Saturday morning, gear up and go, not knowing whether it will be a two, 12 or 48-hour rescue.

While the county provides an operating budget, the program is largely funded by donations from individuals, families and former members who have a deep appreciation for the service provided by these rescuers. Some local businesses, such as Alpine Bank, Umbrella Roofing, Bighorn Toyota and Phil Long Honda, also support the mission with financial and in-kind contributions.

Volunteer members are still the backbone of the entire organization, and Garfield County Search and Rescue is looking for more.

Raul Morales, member for two and a half years, shared how, when he first attended an informational meeting back in 2015, he wasn't sure that he was "one of those kind of guys."

Come as you are

At the time, he did not have any background in rescues or formal medical training. But that, he says, is the beauty of the program. Come as you are, ready to serve and learn what you need (and then some).

Other members cite reasons for joining as varied as their occupations — the camaraderie, time outdoors, getting to know the land, acquiring technical skills and of course, the challenge.

But their reasons for staying are almost universally the same — they are grateful for the opportunity to serve the community and give back in a unique and meaningful way.

After serving for 33 years, lifelong honorary member Bob Smith explains how it all began for him.

"Being new to the area, I wanted to learn about different (places) to hunt and fish," Smith said. "After a while, that seemed less and less important, and what turned me around completely, so to speak, was a plane crash on Valentine's Day in the '80s where all four people on a mercy flight from Grand Junction to Denver survived.

"That gave me hope that any one of our searches after that could end happily … this is why I stayed a member all these years."

'Count on us'

Tom Ice, a member for 14 years, believes strongly that, "Our community needs us. Our county's first responders (fire and law enforcement) need to stay in town to handle emergencies, fires, accidents in town. They should be able to count on us to handle the back-country incidents."

Kim Potter, a member for three years, said, "I have knowledge and skills that can be put to use and allow me to be a contributing member of search and rescue while being able to spend time outside with others who enjoy the outdoors.

I believe I have been lucky in health and career, and I feel indebted for this," Potter added. "Being a member of the SAR team is the perfect opportunity for me to give back to other people in my community."

The intensive initial training, which spans three months in the spring, provides new members with the skills to be "fully deployable." The training covers essential topics like backwoods navigation, various evacuation and rescue techniques, as well as basic wilderness medicine.

Once a member, ongoing trainings are offered monthly and include more in-depth topics like high-angle rescue, dog searches and even advanced snowmobile and ATV riding.

Garco search and rescue info meetings

Anyone interested in finding out more about becoming a member of Garfield County Search and Rescue can attend one of two informational meetings offered at the end of this month.

• Tuesday, Jan. 23, 7-8 p.m., at the GarCo SAR warehouse, 3140 Airport Road, Rifle.

• Tuesday, Jan. 30, 7-8 p.m., at the Glenwood Springs Library.

These meetings will offer a brief presentation, followed by Q & A.

More information: http://www.garfieldcountysar.com, or email garfieldsar@gmail.com