Steamboat Springs When an Illinois couple lost its way in the Buffalo Pass area this weekend, a group of volunteers immediately responded to the call for help.
Routt County Search and Rescue lends its assistance to dozens of emergency calls every year. Volunteers go where other emergency responders cannot.
Search and Rescue teams trek through the snowy backcountry to locate and bring back stranded skiers and stuck snowmobilers. They traverse difficult terrain in the summer to track down wayward mountain bikers and hikers.
And they are hoping local residents pitch in today to ensure their organization provides the same level of response in the coming year.
Routt County Search and Rescue is holding its annual fund-raiser from 5:30 to 10 p.m. tonight at the Bear River Bar and Grill.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or from any Search and Rescue member.
The City of Steamboat Springs and Routt County fund general operating expenses, but proceeds from the fund-raiser allow the organization to replace worn and aging equipment used in rescue missions, such as snowmobiles, ATVs and trucks.
Search and Rescue is the largest emergency service in the county with 50 to 55 active participants. Five to 30 people turn out for one call, president Joe Stevens said. A second page can bring in more people if needed.
Most members hail from Steamboat, but a few represent other parts of the county.
Many who serve with local fire, ambulance or police services volunteer with Search and Rescue.
All members are unpaid volunteers whose payment comes from the satisfaction they find in a mission well done.
"We go out and we save lives and we get people out of trouble," Stevens said. "But it's important for people to know that we are an all volunteer organization."
The annual fund-raiser exposes Search and Rescue to the public, he said. As the organization grows in the public's eye, support for the fund-raiser also grows.
"The awareness of Search and Rescue has increased over the last number of years," he said. "People realize they are providing a really valuable service."
Local public safety organizations that work alongside Search and Rescue have recognized for some time the value of such an organization.
Search and Rescue falls under the jurisdiction of the Routt County Sheriff's Office and works closely with the Sheriff's Office on every rescue mission.
"The working relationship is excellent," Sheriff John Warner said. "I cannot tell you how thankful I am that we have the group of volunteers called Routt County Search and Rescue with the training and the experience that they have."
Had the Sheriff's Office solely handled the rescue mission this weekend, its manpower and resources would have been overly burdened, Warner said.
"What a job they do," he said.
Stevens anticipates Search and Rescue will have responded to 70 or 80 calls by the end of the year.
When members are not responding to one of those calls, they are training Tuesday nights for future missions.
"We've grown ourselves into a very professional organization," Stevens said. "We are highly regarded as one of the better operations out there."
The people who participate in Search and Rescue missions enjoy being a part of a professional organization, he added.
"They like to feel that they are giving something back to their community," Stevens said.
Unless an emergency call comes in tonight, Stevens expects Search and Rescue will be largely represented at the fund-raiser.
During a previous fund-raiser, some volunteers had to leave their own fund-raiser to respond to a call.
The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is sponsoring the event. The $10 tickets include an all-you-can-eat dinner and entertainment. Attendees can bid in a silent auction that features trips, ski equipment, artwork and gift certificates to area restaurants.
Search and Rescue encourages ticket holders to consider purchasing a CORSAR card at the fund-raiser. Sales from the card reimburse the Sheriff's Office for costs incurred in search and rescue efforts.