The men and women who make up the Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) team are tied together by one common goal – helping people. They help people who are lost or injured in our mountain terrain and assist neighboring communities when needed. “Every once in a while we get the opportunity to save a life. That’s is what keeps us going”, said Greg Foley, Field Director for GCSAR.
Foley has been with the GCSAR team for nearly 40 years, “We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year”, with a fully qualified team of trained personnel to deal with search or rescue missions within our scope. “We will go out on a search in the middle of a blizzard on a winter night because we are trained – and because we are needed.”
GCSAR is a 501(c)3 organization with an annual budget of about $80K. The County provides about $30K in funding and $50K is raised by a team of grant writers and generous donations. Foley said, “We couldn’t do what we do without our grants and charitable citizens”.
GCSAR maintains three hubs of operation in the county for vehicles and equipment. The Fraser Road and Bridge facility serves as headquarters for the organization. They also maintain a garage in Kremmling and Grand Lake with a truck, trailers, snowmobiles and ATVs. According to Foley, a large piece of the county funding pays the rent on the garage space for vehicles and equipment.
Grand County Search and Rescue has been in existence since the late 70’s and was officially organized and incorporated in 1985. GCSAR has grown from a loose cadre of volunteers, horsemen and concerned citizens, initially organized as a sheriff’s posse to aid victims of backcountry emergencies, to a full-scale rescue team servicing all of Grand County. With the growth of Grand County as a recreational destination, GCSAR’s role to provide mountain search and rescue services has dramatically increased.
The organization has about 40-45 members on average and is always looking for good people. “We have retention issues like many small communities”. Foley said, “We want people that are ready to get up in the middle of the night to help someone in need”.
GCSAR handles about 50 call-outs per year and have assisted skiers, snowmobilers, hikers, hunters, snowshoers, climbers, rafters, fishermen, mountain bikers and lost children. They have been on the scene for vehicle wrecks, airplane accidents, forest fires and train derailments. When the public is in need of mountain search and rescue services, GCSAR is there. Foley said, “The majority of the incidents are hikers, hunters and snowmobilers.”
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website, there have been 8 avalanche-related deaths in Colorado this year. GCSAR team assisted Clear Creek Search and Rescue on Jones Pass this winter, but none in Grand County. Foley said, “It was an interesting winter. We expected more avalanche-related incidents”. The team has been on 14 calls this year. With the hiking season approaching, Foley expects to see an increase in incidents throughout the summer and fall season.
It takes the right person to be a part of a rescue team. Foley added, “It takes a couple of years before a member is fully trained, and we are always looking for people with a backcountry skill set. Training someone from ground zero is tough”.
In 1995, GCSAR became fully accredited members of the national Mountain Rescue Association by demonstrating team competence in all aspects of mountain search and rescue, including avalanche rescue, snow evacuation, high angle & scree rescues, search techniques, leadership and communication skills. Additionally, GCSAR is strong in specialized scenarios particular to Grand County, including snowmobile search and rescue and swiftwater rescue.
“Through our affiliation with the Mountain Rescue Association and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board, we can effect mutual aid search and rescue operations not only in Grand County, but wherever we may be needed in Colorado or other states”.
Last weekend, Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) successfully passed reaccreditation testing for membership in the Mountain Rescue Association. Every five years, a group of peers from other mountain rescue teams evaluate team performance by staging realistic rescue scenarios.
Search and rescue skills were demonstrated with scenarios in technical high angle (cliff) rescue, low angle (scree) evacuation, avalanche search and rescue, wilderness search and steep snow evacuation.
Besides accrediting team competence, which is especially important for mutual aid missions, the testing event provides a peer review of procedures, techniques and overall safety. The result is a stronger, focused group of professional mountain rescue volunteers.
GCSAR would like to thank the evaluation crew from Larimer County SAR, Alpine Rescue Team, Douglas County SAR, Vail Mountain Rescue, Aspen Mountain Rescue, Western Mountain Rescue Team, El Paso County SAR, Summit County Rescue Group, Park County SAR and Rocky Mountain Rescue Group.
If you would like to make a charitable donation to Grand County Search and Rescue visit the website: grandcountysar.com.