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Summit County Government

Posted on: May 28, 2021

Summit County Board of County Commissioners Proclaim June as Mountain Rescue Awareness Month

Summit County Search & Rescue

Commissioners recognize the significant lifesaving efforts of Summit County Rescue Group as service calls increase drastically during the pandemic

Contact: Nicole Valentine, Director of Communications

SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday in recognition of the significant lifesaving efforts of Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG). The Colorado Search and Rescue Association, consisting of 46 teams, responded to 4,052 calls during 2020, and Summit County is home to one of the most active search and rescue organizations in the state. Activity levels grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals escaped to the great outdoors and the backcountry of Summit County, accounting for more than 185 calls for service in 2020. 

“Given the increasing demand for backcountry rescue services that has arisen from the pandemic and more individuals seeking backcountry recreation, we felt it necessary to acknowledge and honor the men and women of our community whose diligence and professionalism help keep our citizens safe,” said Commissioner Tamara Pogue. “We hope that this will help increase awareness of backcountry safety, particularly as we head into the summer season.”

SCRG is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization operating under the statutory authority of the Summit County Sheriff's Office. Their mission is to fulfill the Sheriff's responsibility to provide backcountry search and rescue services to residents and visitors of Summit County.

“By law, county sheriffs are responsible for coordinating search and rescue. Without teams of trained volunteers, it would be very difficult to meet this requirement. Our volunteers give their time unselfishly to our community, making themselves available every hour, every day of the year, and often taking time away from their families and loved ones,” said Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. “We are enormously grateful for their service and sacrifice.”

SCRG has about 65 active members, eleven of whom are mission coordinators. The mission coordinators rotate in an on-call role and act as the initial point of contact to assess a 911 call for backcountry assistance. SCRG receives 100 to 200 requests for help each year, and these requests usually translate into 50 to 80 "all-call" missions.  In recent years, members have donated a total of seven to ten thousand hours each year for training and rescues.

“The demand on our group is year-round. In the winter we respond to rescue calls from backcountry skiers and snowboarders, cross-country snowshoers and skiers, ice climbers, snowmobilers and avalanche reports; and in the spring, swiftwater accidents,” said SCRG president Ben Butler. “In the summer we go out for lost or injured mountain bikers, climbers, hikers, ATV and horseback riders. In the fall we assist lost or injured hunters. We do not have an off-season, and our members are often called away from work or family time at a moment's notice to assist folks who may be having the worst day of their lives. ”

The group also responds to the occasional downed hot-air balloon, crashed hang glider, airplane or helicopter accident, rolled four-wheel-drive vehicle and over-the-edge highway motor vehicle accident.  An average mission runs for a few hours, but missions can extend overnight or even into multiple days for extractions in challenging terrain or missing parties that take time to locate.

Jeff Sparhawk, president of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association, commented, “I’ve lived the search and rescue way of life for over 30 years and I think I know a little about how fortunate Summit County is to have its volunteer backcountry search and rescue responders. In my experience, I see few, if any, counties that have what you have in Summit. These are the type of people every community needs and wants. These selfless mountaineers, climbers, skiers, snowmobilers live a life that you cannot understand unless you have lived it. They are always giving, always prepared, and they and their families are always making sacrifices for friends, neighbors and complete strangers.”

The Summit County Rescue Group is a member of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSAR), the Rocky Mountain Region of the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) and the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR).  In addition to responding in Summit County, SCRG is available for assistance on major wilderness search and rescue missions anywhere in the state, through a mutual aid agreement with CSAR.  SCRG is also automatically activated by the county's incident command group on any third alarm emergency or mass casualty incident in the county.

The Summit County Rescue Group is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at no charge to its rescue subjects. All funding comes from grants and donations. 

For more information on the Summit County Rescue Group, visit: https://www.scrg.org/

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