On June 30, 2023

KSAR moves from fire dept to police dept

 

By Katy Savage

In an attempt to move on from turmoil, Killington’s search and rescue team (KSAR) will fall under the purview of the police department going forward, moving away from the fire department.

Killington Police Chief Whit Montgomery will become the new head of search and rescue. He plans to name a volunteer KSAR director in the coming weeks. 

The Select Board voted unanimously Monday, June 26, to make the change after about 25 people, including 13 former KSAR members and a dozen firefighters, left the department over disagreements with Fire Chief Chris LaHart, who resigned effective June 20 after five-plus months on the job.

The former KSAR volunteers now serve the town under Brattleboro-based Rescue, Inc. while Killington is forming its own search and rescue team.

Montgomery pledged to move on from the hostility.

“It’s not about us, it’s not about ego,” Montgomery said at the meeting. “It’s doing what’s best for our community as well as citizens that live here. 

“When a person is lost or injured in the back country they don’t really care who’s coming, they just want to know that someone will be there, that someone can rescue them. The outside world doesn’t care about what’s going on  within the department internally.”

Montgomery doesn’t yet know when the new KSAR team will be able to respond to calls. He said he has seven volunteers who are certified in first aid and wilderness EMT. He spoke with Vermont State Police Lt. Anthony French and other agencies.

“They realize we’re all up and coming again,” Montgomery said.

Despite efforts to move on, contention remains between town officials and the former KSAR group. The old KSAR team has repeatedly asked for rescue equipment, including helmets, snowshoes, ropes, litters and stretchers, from the town.

Dave Coppock, a former KSAR member who joined Rescue, Inc, recently sent an email to town officials, offering a deal —their gear for July 4 celebration equipment.

“If you want to use Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.’s gear for the Fourth of July, you’ll have to give us back some of our gear,” Coppock wrote in the email, according to Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth.

Coppock, who was at the meeting, further reiterated his request.

“All we’re asking is that we get the gear that we had formerly so we can continue doing our job as well as possible,” Coppock said. “We feel we deserve to get as much as we need to do our job as well as possible.”

Select Board members said at the meeting they won’t take the deal becuase they have a tent for July 4. And, most of the equipment won’t be returned to the old KSAR group.

“We’re not being held hostage over something, we’re moving on,” Select Board member Jim Haff said.

Former KSAR members also asked the town to not form a rescue team given Rescue, Inc. is already serving the area.

“We are respected statewide,” Coppock said. “It seems redundant to have more than one search and rescue team serving the town and region. It’s just going to be confusing and unnecessary and expensive. You already have a resource here now — us.”

Murray McGrath, one of the original KSAR members, who joined Rescue, Inc. said in a phone call that some feel they were mistreated by town officials and likely won’t return to KSAR.  

“We’re going to stay (with Rescue, Inc.) because they welcomed us,” McGrath said.

Killington Search and Rescue was originally created in 2012 to find skiers lost in the backcountry.

Montgomery said KSAR falling under the police department “makes for a better flow.

“It streamlines the response time,” Montgomery said. “The majority of times, we take the initial phone call.”

Montgomery said forming a new KSAR team will allow the town to be independent of an outside entity.

“I think the town itself can’t be 100% dependent and rely on outside help,” Montgomery said in a phone call. “It has to be self dependent and rely on its own resources. Two is better than one.”

Montgomery said he was willing to work with other agencies, including Rescue, Inc., if needed.

“Just because KSAR’s back up and running, doesn’t mean we’re not going to reach out to our partners to provide the same type of service when needed,” he said. “We’ve got the local resources. If we need backup, we’ll call Rescue, Inc. We’ve got very skilled members of that program and very good members in our program. It’s a benefit to everyone.” 

KSAR responds to about 15 calls a year — most of which involve searching for lost skiers and hikers in the winter.

Montgomery said the group will focus on backcountry search and rescues going forward. High angle rescues, a service formerly offered by KSAR to assist rock climbers, won’t be performed in the near future, Montgomery said. 

Meanwhile, the fire department currently has 21 active members and seven probationary members, according to the Select Board.

Paul Ginther, who is currently the director of emergency services in Barre, was named the town’s new fire chief, a role he’s starting July 10. Mark Fiore and Paul Stiles, the highest ranking volunteers, are leading the fire department until then.

“This town has a fire department and EMS, and we have people ready to make the calls,” Haff said. “Calls are being taken care of.”

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