Volunteer searchers logged most hours in the state
The Park City Rotary Club recognized some of the area’s most courageous volunteers by naming the Summit County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team its 2006 Volunteer Citizen of the Year.
"We really appreciate this honor," Sheriff’s Office Capt. Alan Siddoway told Rotarians who gathered for lunch Tuesday in Prospector.
Siddoway oversees a team of roughly 75 volunteers who remain at the ready, night and day, to rescue people injured or lost in the backcountry.
The volunteers in Summit County in 2005 spent more time in the woods more than 19,000 hours — than any other search team in the state, Siddoway said.
"We would literally be paralyzed without this group," Siddoway said, adding that the volunteers have saved the Sheriff’s Office hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. "They’re very dear to me."
The Uinta Mountains east of Kamas seem to be a hotspot for lost hikers and rescue efforts have made national headlines as volunteer searchers have looked for lost women and Boy Scouts.
"They’re the perfect recipient for [the award] in my mind," Park City Rotary Club President Jim Lea said. "It’s wonderful to know you don’t have to go knock on your neighbor’s door and see how many people on your block can turn up who are inexperienced and who may get lost themselves."
Others Parkites who have received Rotary’s volunteer award include Bill Brown, Sarah Jones, Dana Williams and Lou and Arlene Fine. Organizations like the Park City Ambassadors and Summit County Friends of Animals have also been recognized.
"They’re in great company and they deserve it," said Lea about the search team.
The group comprised of mostly neighbors from eastern Summit County was honored by the recognition from such a prominent organization, Siddoway said.
"A lot of the people who are on this team grew up together, they spend their off time together," said Don LaFay, the search team’s volunteer commander. "It’s a tight-knit group."
They aren’t paid and often use their own horses, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles during rescue operations.
"We are very honored that the Rotary Club would take the time to even consider the group for this award, but to go as far as to say we recognize what you do and we’re appreciative of it, publicly, it means a lot," Siddoway said.
The team spends roughly 80 percent of its time in the Uinta Mountains often searching craggy ledges and steep scree.
"Whenever you get a call, especially when it’s a young child, you get a cold chill up your back," LaFay said. "You don’t know what you are going to run into."
Bountiful Boy Scout Brennan Hawkins, 11, was found alive in the Uintas during the fourth day of searching in June 2005.
"We’re not out there trying to gain fame or have our face in the spotlight, it’s more just trying to help people who are in trouble," LaFay said. "When we find somebody, the team found the person, it’s not just one individual."
But searchers have found no sign of Garrett Bardsley, a 12-year-old who disappeared while camping with his father in the Cuberant Lakes region of the Uintas in 2004
"It really hit home to all of the members as if it were your own kid," LaFay said, adding that the volunteers often hike near where Bardsley was last seen. "There are guys who spend their own personal time, they’ll go on a hike and just search."
Siddoway added, "I don’t say [the search for Garrett] haunts us, because I don’t like the word haunts. But it stays with us as a group and it stays with us as individuals."
Most searches, however, end happily, because of the team’s speedy response, he said.
"I’ve seen this group come out time and time again, in all kinds of weather and all times of the day or night," Siddoway said. "They don’t complain about the area that we’re sending them into, they don’t complain about the hour that they’ve been called out at."
While the Grand County Sheriff’s Office received the most calls for search and rescue in 2005, LaFay believes his team deserves the Rotary award because of how much time was volunteered in Summit County.
"We don’t have to count on one specific individual, we’ve got some depth," LaFay said, adding that if a team member is unavailable "we’ve got three or four guys right behind him who are just as qualified."
Says Lea, "they are by far our best chance of locating somebody who gets lost."
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The Park City Police Department last week was summoned to Snows Lane to respond to a complaint about three skiers or snowboarders who were reported to be “ducking ropes and avoiding patrollers.”