If you’re stuck in a crevasse or lost in the snow in Mesa County, these are the people who are helping you


Rescuers called in to find people lost in the vast desert of Mesa County or in the towering mesas regularly hear a similar feeling from those they help, almost always sheepishly:

“I am so Genie.”

Don’t be, say volunteers from the Mesa County Search and Rescue Ground Team. As Nathan Smithgall says, they all joined together for a reason.

“I believe that was my calling, to help your neighbor in times of need,” said Smithgall, 31.

Wearing his New England Patriots-themed Santa hat, he was reunited with dozens of other members, all dressed in matching bright red jackets, in downtown Grand Junction. The annual Parade of Lights was about to begin. They had brought a few ATVs, a boat and a truck, along with their backpacks, decorated with little lights and always stocked with supplies – because they never know when they will need to take action.

One year, a large part of the team had to tear out their lights and rush out of the parade to rescue someone.

The team typically performs more than 60 missions per year, often responding to a 911 call made from the backcountry. Each county in Colorado is responsible for coordinating its search and rescue services, and while there are a few other specialized volunteer teams doing this work in Mesa, the ground crew is the primary one.

Jeanine Camp, who joined the team six years ago at the age of 50, saw the team as a perfect outlet after her children left home. She also trained her German Shepherds, Rusty and Roxanne, to help her.

She really enjoys that moment when looking up after calling someone, looking up and down, when suddenly she hears his relieved little voice.

“It makes me so happy,” she said beaming.

His most memorable mission? It must have been when a dog fell 30 feet into a narrow crevasse. At 5ft 2in, Camp knew she was one of the few people small enough to help.

“And so I try to get down into that crevasse, and I actually sink into that crevasse, and when I do that, I’m like, ‘This is really super stupid. “”

It was so tight that she couldn’t even wear her helmet. She could barely wear her glasses. She imagined herself being stuck for days, team members having to cut back on food, and it all becoming a sensation on the evening news. But eventually, she and another petite woman were able to make their way to this dark lab, wagging their tails happily. They put a harness around him, and he walked out.

Everything was fine, but her teammates had a plan in case she got stuck: pour cooking oil to help her out.

Anyway, “I was going to save this dog,” Camp said, with a big laugh. “And we did it! ”

Her joy was contagious, a balance between all the time – and money – that volunteers spend. While Mesa County has had search and rescue services for generations, when the ground crew started in 2001, it was a game-changer. The team instituted frequent training sessions and annual fitness reviews, and research. Members can claim mileage, but when it comes to their personal equipment it is their responsibility. As they juggle their daily life, family and work, they know that a cry for help can come at any time.

So often that moment is inopportune, explained Tom Crawford, who sports a wild red beard. Maybe the call comes on a quiet Sunday night after he’s just put his clothes in the washing machine, or it’s at 2 a.m. and “you get out of bed,” the 45 year old man laughing.

Crawford is still in his first year on the team, and he’s already seen how vital it is to respond to those calls, like quite recently when a woman was wrecked on her dirt bike and was “rather. stoned ”and away from it all.

Crawford, whose nicknames include “the Mountain Goat” and “the Energizer Bunny,” grew up in Mesa County and knows its hinterland well. He and the rest of the crew were able to locate the injured woman and bring her to safety.

“If it hadn’t been for us who knows how long she would have been up there,” Crawford said.

With floats leaning against residential streets and marching bands in formation, the parade was about to begin. In addition to tiny lights on her backpack, Donna Powelson, 60, had attached a stuffed reindeer and a Grinch, just like every year.

“Look at all these people, already! She exclaimed, as the crowds gathered on the sidewalks. The team began to move forward to applause. “Wow. There we are!”

As they walked down Main Street, the crowd grew larger. Powelson and the rest of the crew grabbed handfuls of candy from the back of an ATV and handed them out.

Children and adults were ecstatic and grateful waves. Powelson kept answering him over and over again. Community gratitude means a lot, she explained, but that’s not what drives her to do it.

“We’re not doing it for the honor. It is not something heroic. It’s just what we do, ”she said.

The Mesa County Search and Rescue Ground Team is accepting applications from potential new members until the end of the year. More information: https://mesacountysearchandrescue.org/


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