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Vt. search and rescue crews take extra precautions during pandemic

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 5:51 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 7:34 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - When hikers need help in the backcountry, Vermont search and rescue teams are trained to respond. But during the pandemic, they’ve had to take a few extra steps to keep their own team members safe.

Since the pandemic began, the great outdoors has been crucial in allowing people to get out of their homes safely. Vermont Forestry Commissioner Michael Snyder says state parks were welcoming a lot of new visitors. “We saw a surge in use right since April, all the way through the summer. I think we saw a diversification of the demographics of outdoor use,” he said.

But with less experience in the outdoors, there is an increased risk of accidents. Snyder says it’s important to think of your own health as well as others.

“The numbers for missions are up this year," said Neil Van Dyke, the coordinator for the Vermont Search and Rescue team with the Vermont Department of Public Safety.

He says not only has the state police seen an increase in search and rescue missions, but local rescue crews have also seen an uptick. Since rescues can involve close contact, it meant new training to keep everyone safe. “We’ve had to undertake additional precautions when performing our duties out in the backcountry," said Van Dyke.

Along with using proper PPE, search and rescue teams have had to do additional sanitizing, cleaning, and social distance when they can. Officials say a safety and time balance is important, so they can do their jobs and keep everyone healthy. They say it has also complicated the risk-benefit analysis, but their job still remains clear.

“Yes, there is extra time involved, but our mission is still to help someone in need. All of the search and rescue teams in Vermont have had to adopt some policies and procedures for dealing with emergencies and then undergo some training to make sure they are following those policies,” said Van Dyke.

And now that winter is on the way, Snyder and Van Dyke both say it is better to be overprepared when heading out into the woods. “To carry that little bit of extra, it’s a little extra if you don’t need it, but if you need it, it’s awfully nice to have it," said Snyder.

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