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Colorado Leads The Way Supporting Volunteer Search And Rescue Teams

(CBS4) - Now that Gov. Polis has signed a new bill into law giving support to search and rescue crews across Colorado, the Colorado Search and Rescue organization is now hopeful more support is on the way in the coming years.

Anna Debattiste with Colorado Search and Rescue said a study into how we can help our SAR operations across the state came out earlier this year which shows the state is keeping up with the increase in demand as more and more people visit our great outdoors...but only just.

"We could do a lot better," Debattiste said.

"I do feel like it is turning a page for Colorado, we are not aware of any other state that is involved in efforts that we are at the state level to redesign the system. We are pretty excited about that, we hope we are leading the way for other state efforts," she said.

Colorado is experiencing more tourism which creates more potential rescues needed from the same population of team members, some of them aging out of service.

"The people who do this are the people who have the time and the money, and they are not necessarily the young folks with strong backs that we really need as our more veteran members start to age," Debattiste said.

Now with the support from the new law, SAR across the state should be able to have access to more funding, as well as protect volunteers from civil lawsuits for trying to help out. That "Good Samaritan" protection is already in place for most of the state's emergency medical service providers, but because SAR is volunteer only, it has been excluded up until now.

"For example, if you are a doctor or nurse and you are off duty and volunteer as a good Samaritan to help someone who is injured or ill you have some protection from a civil lawsuit, it only makes sense that we should have the same thing, we are ALWAYS acting in a volunteer basis," Debattiste said.

It also includes higher education benefits for any dependent of any volunteer rescuer who is killed or disabled in the line of duty. Next on the list, Debattiste believes rescue crews should be getting reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, or have the potential for designated helicopters specifically for SAR.

"Right now, they not only volunteer their time but they pay out of pocket for their gear and equipment and expenses getting to a mission which, with gas prices where they currently are, that is a big deal," said Debattiste.

Changing some of these potential deal breakers allows for a lower cost of entry for people considering volunteering some of their time to make sure our visitors are safe and make it back from their mountain adventures. Debattiste said that could be a game-changer for the future of our teams.

"Some of the teams in more remote areas of Colorado have a terrible time recruiting members. Then the teams in the less remote areas, the front range and I-70 corridor they don't have as much trouble recruiting but they have trouble retaining because of the cost of living in those areas," Debattiste said.


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