Pueblo, CO - While frontline health workers are capturing much deserved attention during this pandemic for service to their patients, Pueblo County hosts several groups of individuals who also stand by quietly ready to serve others in often their darkest hours and minutes.
In Pueblo County, Search and Rescue teams are typically busiest in summer. However, with the pandemic, all seasons have been above normal call volume across the state according to Scott Robertshaw Associate Director of Student Recreation for Colorado State University-Pueblo. Some SAR teams in the state have had two, three, or more calls in one day and at the same time. The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office responds to numerous incidents each year from urban and wilderness missing person cases to weather-related or other naturally occurring events such as wildfires or floods that may endanger humans or animals.
Colorado State University-Pueblo is one of two higher education institutions in Colorado and one of 10 in the country with an active Search and Rescue (SAR) Team. They work with the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office and other Search and Rescue teams in the area thanks to an agreement signed in 2016. The current CSU-Pueblo team consists of 18 students with a five-person student leadership team who are interested in search and rescue and developing their technical skills, medical knowledge and team spirit in order to serve others.
Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk M. Taylor sponsored the CSU-Pueblo team in 2016 because he recognized the value real-world response offers these students.
“Education is the foundation for any successful career, it provides specific knowledge and skill,” Sheriff Taylor added, “but beyond that, careers or volunteer opportunities like SAR, Dive Recovery, Fire, and Law are extremely mentally and physically challenging. Those who think they want a career of this sort are well-served by taking advantage of programs like this, and I am happy to champion these students in this way.”
Robertshaw echoed the Sheriff’s thoughts.
“I am proud to have the team serve the community in this capacity, but even more satisfied that students are leaving the University with a technical skill set to add to their portfolios and resumes,” he said.
The CSU Pueblo team’s impact has been so significant that it was awarded the 2020 Red Cross Emerging Leaders Honor. Since its inception, the team has participated in a multitude of incident responses, trainings, and community outreach events including lost hikers and hunters, water rescues, and the annual Pueblo Safety Jam.
Among its many certifications, CSU Pueblo SAR team members have earned certifications in First Aid/Responder, Emergency Medical Technician – Basic, First Aid/CPR, National Incident Management System, Flight for Life Lift Ticket, Search and Rescue Technician II/III, Rope Rescue Technician, Swiftwater Rescue Technician, Wide Area Search, High Altitude Aviation Training Site Ground Hoist Technician, and Canine Search and Recovery.
At its peak in 2019, the CSU-Pueblo team had 26 on its roster and 12 deployable students, but according to Robertshaw, the pandemic has definitely affected all teams in Colorado, especially CSU Pueblo.
“Due to the increased restriction, precautions, university remote functioning, the recruitment, in person training and retention of members was significantly inhibited,” he said. “We were able to retain a core crew, have our largest fundraising campaign, and develop plans for return in Spring 2021.”
Last July, students responded to a mission in the county including a major three-day mission in Rye, which involved more than 100 personnel from all over the state. The mission was coordinated by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office in cooperation with Colorado Search and Rescue Association and Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office. A Texas teen went for a day hike to the top of Greenhorn Mountain and went missing from Monday, July 20 to Wednesday, July 22. Responders from 19 agencies and six different counties searched for him in the rough terrain – ATVs, Helicopters, k-9, mounted patrol (horses). This mission had a happy ending as the boy found his way out of the woods and knocked on the door of a house in Gardner, hungry but without injuries.
Similar to how the Sheriff’s Explorer Volunteers (a law enforcement volunteer opportunity for Pueblo teens) sometimes get hired as deputies, a handful of CSU-Pueblo students from the University’s SAR program have transitioned into Search, Dive, and even Fire volunteers for our agency or other agencies in the county.
One recent example is former CSU Pueblo SAR Team Training Manager and MBA Graduate Reese Irwin, who now serves as Team Leader for the Pueblo County SAR team, teaches adjunct for CSU Pueblo Business and Recreation, and works at EVRAZ as an accountant.
“Search and Rescue has provided me the opportunity to obtain, share, and teach specialized, professional training that my team and I can utilize to save others’ lives. I cannot think of a more rewarding opportunity,” Irwin said.
Sheriff Taylor says the value the CSU-Pueblo SAR team adds to the cadre of Pueblo County volunteers is unique.
“Beyond the supplemental manpower, we see the energy of the students and their enthusiasm re-invigorating the more seasoned volunteers, and mentoring relationships have turned into friendships,” he said.
Robertshaw looks to the future with optimism for the SAR team, especially given the recent CSU-Pueblo Gives Day, which raised more than $7000 to purchase additional rescur supplies and technical clothing as well as fund scholarships, travel, and training for team members.
For more information on the Search and Rescue Team, contact Robertshaw at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, 719.549.2085.
Throughout the approval process, Robertshaw sought the guidance of other agencies and university-based teams, including Western State Colorado University, Pueblo County, Arapaho High School and CSU-Pueblo chemistry professor Mel Druelinger, a 40+ year search and rescue veteran, who was named the 2016 Red Cross First Responder Hero for his service to the El Paso County Search and Rescue team. Druelinger has participated in thousands of missions, from an avalanche mission on Pikes Peak to more challenging out-of-county rescues on Crestone Needle, Little Bear and the Maroon Bells.
Find Search and Rescue Photos to Use Royalty Free under Community at: https://sharepueblo.com -> Scroll to Content Library -> Click on Community Folder
You can also visit: https://www.csupueblo.edu/thunderwolf-recreation/_doc/csu_pueblo_sar_2020.pdf