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2 daysof S&R& R&R

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox Lanny Grant of Garfield County Sheriff's search-and-rescue team
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By Carrie ClickPost Independent StaffRescue helicopters, search dogs, rope system rescues, rescues using ATVs and GPS, and a camping trip, too – it was an all-inclusive weekend for members of the Interagency Fire crew based in Rifle, and Garfield and Rio Blanco counties Search and Rescue volunteer teams. Close to 30 search and rescue crews and fire crews, plus a half-dozen dogs, met high on the Flat Tops this past weekend, as they do every summer and winter, for intense training sessions – and a bit of R&R wedged in between. Headquartered at a coveted campsite amidst enormous, dark green pine trees and expansive meadows on the road to, coincidentally, Meadow Lake, the crew staked out their spot early in the weekend. “There was a group here Friday, but once they saw the Garfield County sheriff vehicles, they took off,” said Search and Rescue volunteer Peter Hayes with a smile. ‘On call all the time’Lanny Grant from Garfield County Sheriff Search and Rescue said the bi-annual training sessions are good for the group for a lot of reasons.

“It’s a time for us to practice rescuing skills,” Grant said.”It gives us a refresher. And it’s social, too.”Usually when we all get together, we’re in the middle of a pressure situation. These weekends give us time to kick back and relax.” With hunting season beginning this coming weekend – archery season starts Saturday, Aug. 28 – Grant said the group’s August training sessions are scheduled to prepare search and rescuers for a backcountry full of people – and potential rescues.”We’ll be busy from now through December,” said Grant.The Garfield County volunteer crew is “all on call all the time,” Grant said. Each member trades off being the on-call coordinator.That person is the contact for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, and determines if the Hasty Crew, a revolving group of four to five rescuers, can handle a rescue call, of if the entire crew needs to be called out. Flight for LifeOn Saturday, the group worked on what’s called low-angle rescue training – that is, evacuating people from slopes. They also rigged up rope systems.

“We worked on descending steep slopes with a patient,” Grant said. On Sunday, the Flat Tops’ calm was broken by the whir of helicopters as two choppers – one from Flight for Life from St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver and another from Care Flight from St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction – landed in a meadow adjacent to the crew’s campsite for helicopter rescue training. Grant said search and rescue crews call for rescue helicopters during critical rescue missions. “In good weather, it takes 40 minutes for these helicopters to get here,” Grant said. Regional rescue helicopters are now starting to use night vision technology, said Grant, which can become extremely beneficial when a critical patient needs to get to a hospital quickly, and night is on its way. But rescues by helicopters aren’t always appropriate. Grant said for each search and rescue case, crews fill out a form to determine the priority of various rescues.”If we have someone who’s been reported late, yet they have backcountry experience, they’re in good health and they’re known to have food, water and warm clothes with them, that’s different than getting a report about someone who is either very old or very young, is known to have a pre-existing medical condition, and is either out of shape or overweight,” said Grant. He said for the prepared individual, crews might hold off on a rescue until there’s adequate daylight, but for the more unstable patient, a rescue may call for helicopter transport. To the dogs



Sunday morning was for rescue helicopter training but Sunday afternoon went to the dogs. Wyman Bontrager and his Australian shepherd Dundee were among the four dog-handler teams at the campsite Sunday.”All these dogs are either certified by the Search Dogs of Colorado, or are in training,” he said as handlers practiced a kind of hide-and-seek with their dogs, hiding in the woods next to the camp, and waiting for their dogs to locate them.”This is playtime for the dogs,” said Bontrager. “Dogs get discouraged when they can’t find the person they’re looking for. Even when a dog finds a deceased person, we bring out the play toys and reward them. It’s tough on the family if they see this kind of reaction, but finding the person is the dog’s reward.” Bontrager said search dogs usually are either trailing dogs, following a specific scent along a trail, or air scent dogs, smelling a specific scent in the air and wind. Whichever the kind of rescue work, though, having fun is the most important component.”I let the neighbor kids play with Dundee,” Bontrager said. “I pinpoint one kid and Dundee has to find that one. Dundee loves playing the search game. All these dogs do.” Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com


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