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Search and Rescue strengthens community J R F E  

La Plata County Search and Rescue offers the county security and service in the forms of response to lost outdoorsmen and provides assistance to those involved in disasters in unusual places or circumstances. The LPCSAR volunteer organization tells the story of a community with a growing tradition of giving back. The organization commenced formally when John Ball, Zac Hargraves, and Brian Christianson began collaborating with the sheriff ’s department in 1976, Aaron Ball, LPCSAR team member and trainer, said. Aer an unorganized and unsuccessful search aempt for a lost boy, the three men decided to push forward with a formal organization, Ball said. Today, LPCSAR has 114 members and deals with an average of 35 actual search and rescues annually, Lt. Sheriff Butch Knowlton, the director of the office of emergency management for La Plata County said. A typical 911 call pertaining to a possible search and rescue situation will be transferred to the sheriff ’s deputies and then to the sheriff as it is the sheriff ’s duty by law to address such issues, Knowlton said. “Our area, generally, is outside of a mile from a major road or on rough terrain,” Brock Forston, LPCSAR member and trainer said. “If the incident is within a mile of a road then normally the fire department takes care of it”. Aer the deputies pass the information along to Knowlton, he follows up by talking to the reporting parties and family members to build more information that the volunteers may need when they go out into a particular location, Knowlton said. When Knowlton has given the coordination team, a group of senior members and appropriate experts some direction, they proceed with the mission, Skip Favreau, LPCSAR coordination team member, said. The basics are all the same, but sometimes we need to use different resources to get satisfactory results, Knowlton said. Search and rescue can call on all sorts of resources, whether it is the Colorado Mounted Rangers, the San Juan Sledders Snowmobile Club, local raing companies, the police department, or dive teams, Ron Corkish, the president of LPCSAR, said. “We refer to it as the library,” he said. “You know, we have all these books on the shelf and when each mission comes up you pull out a different book for the job.”

Photo courtesy LPCSAR members LPCSAR members getting briefed before a winter mission. One of the reasons why he got into LPCSAR was through Sheriff Knowlton when the organization potentially needed the use of snowmobiles, Corkish said. Being part of a snowmobile club turned into an opportunity to help the community, he said. To get involved with LPCSAR, someone only has to show up at one of the meetings which occur at 7 p.m. on the last Monday of each month at the La Plata County fairgrounds and sign up, Forston said. “It’s not that big of a commitment,” Ball said. “It’s like the last Monday of every month, it’s about a two-hour meeting, and it’s a great place to, one, stay involved with the community, and two, get extra additional trainings that you may not get necessarily other places.” There are no requirements to go on call outs, but if a team member can, then great, Forston said. “Prospective members need to be trained in not only basic first aid, but also CPR, and various outdoor skills,” Favreau said. “We offer trainings that bring people up to standards whether it’s rope rescue, search methods, or communication.” LPCSAR has been increasing its diversity of skills in the last few years, Knowlton said. With a large number of volunteers and a growing diversity, LPCSAR looks to deal with the missions with more efficiency and expertise, he said. LPCSAR gets a lot more than 35 calls a year, but many times, through the investigation process the need for service is eliminated, Knowlton said. The most predominant type of call

came a few years ago during the hunting season before cell phones and text messaging mitigated those situations, Knowlton said. The majority of calls pertain to people out past their scheduled return time in the backcountry, including mountain bikers and other serious calls involving medical assistance, he said. Knowlton has lile criticism for people seeking the backcountry but does offer some advice. “I don’t think you can find anyone in our entire group who doesn’t support someone’s right and ability to go out and enjoy our beautiful country even though we sometimes question people that gamble the way they do,” he said. “We don’t criticize them for that but, most importantly, I think out of that we want those people to be responsible.” When someone gets into the backcountry and has an accident, it’s going to take a while for help to come, he said. “I think that it is important to evaluate what you’re doing and what’s going to happen to me if things go really bad here,” Knowlton said. They need to ask themselves if they get hurt, are they going to make it until help arrives, he said. Many times, LPCSAR gets a call and the situation usually involves very difficult terrain, Knowlton said. No one knows where the people are, and not all of the equipment can be taken along easily, he said. “There are so many things that are against us, so it really does take a special mind and a special level of dedication for people to get out and give,” Knowlton said. All the equipment must be carried

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and the weather can be challenging as well, he said. “Oen times you’re seeing people in their worst state and you’re there coming out of the woods to help them with what they have going on,” Ball said. “It’s just a thing that’s a huge service that all the members of the search and rescue team are providing for the community.” LPCSAR has further advice that again could help victims and search and rescue teams, this time referring to finances. LPCSAR does not receive any tax-payer money and relies on donations for their equipment and maintenance, Favreau said. The major fundraiser is the annual LPCSAR pancake breakfast during the Snowdown festivities, he said. Rescues involving helicopters and other expensive tools can run up a large bill that can sometimes be difficult to reimburse, Knowlton said. A really responsible thing to do for a backcountry user is to invest in a Colorado Search and Rescue Card which can be purchased separately or is included in state hunting and fishing licenses, he said. The card enables search and rescue teams around the state to seek reimbursement from a state fund, instead of seeking money from the individual, he said. “Having that card gives us the entitlement to go the state fund to get money back for some of the expenditures,” he said. “It makes it fair and right.” For more information please contact Jon Rezabek at

Photo Courtesy | LPCSAR members LPCSAR in a high-angle situation.


Photo courtesy LPCSAR members LPCSAR members getting briefed before a winter mission.