Tuesday, October 24, 2000
Steamboat Springs The pagers being carried by the 47 volunteers of Routt County Search and Rescue have been going off more than ever this year.
Already the rescue team has been on 63 missions in 2000, the most ever in the agency's history.
"Every year since I started volunteering, we have been experiencing an increase in missions," said Mark Steur, a seven-year veteran and a member of the organization's board of directors. "This year we could get into the 80s."
When Steur became a volunteer, the county team worked with about a $20,000 budget and responded to about 20 missions a year.
Since that time, the team's budget has increased annually and now reaches $70,000. The increase corresponds with a rising number of missions search and rescue is being called out for each year.
Last year, the team responded to close to 50 missions.
"We have experienced a huge increase this year," Steur said. "We are getting more visitors here a year. More people are also going into the backcountry to snowmobile, snowshoe and cross country ski."
Due to increasing participation in backcountry activities, search and rescue is experiencing longer rescue missions than members are accustomed to.
Recently, the team completed two lengthy rescues of hunters. Thomas Alexander, 72, of Tulsa, Okla., had to be rescued from the Porcupine Lake area Friday after he fell off his horse and injured his hip and back. It took a 14-member rescue team more than six hours to get the man out of the wilderness.
On Monday, it took a 12-member rescue team a little longer to rescue Jim Waterhouse, 58, of Iowa.
Waterhouse had to slowly be wheeled out of the wilderness on a one-wheeled stoke, southeast of Floyd Peak Monday evening. The hunter had injured his back horseback riding. The rescue took about nine hours.
"The past two rescues have been pretty hard on the team," said Adam Christman, the incident commander for Alexander's rescue. "It took a lot of manpower to do it. We had to do a lot of hand labor because of the location of these two men."
The team was up for the challenge to rescue the two hunters because of the amount of training the members have undergone in recent years.
Search and rescue spends a majority of its funds on training members on proper medical techniques and use of ropes and all-terrain vehicles.
"We are constantly sending out people to seminars," Steur said. "We are a highly-trained and professional team. With the number of missions increasing each year, it is necessary to keep that training up."
The team also is training to assist in areas other than just searches and rescues.
"We have provided wildland fire support and will assist in field investigations in the backcountry when they are conducted by the sheriff's office," Steur said.
To be able to respond to search and rescue situations and assist other agencies, the team relies on funding from three sources.
The largest portion of the budget comes from Steamboat Springs and Routt County. These two entities collectively budgeted $70,000 for search and rescue this year.
The organization uses those funds for general operating expenses, to replace equipment, training and conducting missions
"Not all missions are reimbursed," Steur said. "Many of the people we rescue have not purchased licenses. We don't charge for these missions."
However, organization will be reimbursed for the rescues for Alexander and Waterhouse because they were hunters, Steur said.
The Department of Local Affairs will reimburse search and rescue teams throughout the state for expenses related to the rescue of people who have purchased hunting or fishing licenses.
When a person buys a hunting license, for example, a 25-cent surcharge is included in the cost for search and rescue purposes, Steur said.
Other sources of funding come from the Department of Local Affairs. This year, the local team was awarded an $11,000 grant which it used to buy an all-terrain vehicle.
The final source of income is a fund-raiser that search and rescue has every year at the Steamboat Brewery and Tavern. In September, the event raised about $12,000, he said.
Although search and rescue is funded, none of the members are paid.
"We all wish we were paid," Steur said. "But we are all volunteers. We put in a lot of time."