Letter, Opinion

Thank you, KSAR, for your service

Dear Editor,

My Dad encouraged me to find my voice and my Mom taught me to respect those who serve the public good. So, I  would like to extend a hearty thank you to all who have served the public as the Killington Search and Rescue team (KSAR) since 2011 in their capacity as trained wilderness search and rescue team members within the state  collaborative network. This has never been a trivial pursuit. They are to be commended for their bravery, dedication  and devotion to service as highly skilled volunteers.  

Jumping into the heart of the matter, as Drew Clymer, the state search and rescue leader, declared at the town  Select Board meeting March 20 that search and rescue ropes are not supposed to be NFPA (National Fire  Protection Association) approved because they are too heavy for packing into the backcountry on foot. In addition,  and as a matter of public record, he shared that Stowe only began keeping rope maintenance logs this year (2 months  ago), and they are the preeminent vertical search team in the Northeast. So, Chief Chris was wrong to impugn  the character of KSAR by assessing them by a fire department rule book. He exposed himself as a naive new leader  in our precious mountain community. We deserve better as tax payers expecting accurate standards of public safety.  No, KSAR did not risk our public safety by not using heavy fire standard ropes. Yes, KSAR had good mountaineering  ropes checked regularly by certified mountaineering trainers. No, they did not risk our safety by not keeping detailed  rope maintenance logs. KSAR had followed common statewide backcountry rescue rope log practice. The entire  KSAR team, past and present, deserve better when we assess their contribution to town.  

In hindsight, if the town manager had done his job better, he would have spoken with Clymer directly regarding the  proper rule book to assess KSAR from the proper state team perspective. Instead, he asked Rutland city, which also  did not realize towns must distinguish between urban and wilderness search and rescue skill sets, ropes and  protocols.

Frankly, I guess this is why Vermont state pays Clymer to advise towns in developing wilderness search and  rescue. It is unique from fire. It is difficult in special ways, and requires specific wilderness and mountaineering  skills combined with local terrain experience. It is a collaboration of multiple team members skilled in the art who  have honed their teamwork into a smooth operation under long hours over difficult terrain, off the pavement.  Specifically, KSAR was a highly respected part of the state search and rescue network, used on regional callouts as needed without hesitation. If KSAR was not functioning properly, KSAR would not have been called to  participate since 2011, and regularly participated in state Search and Rescue trainings. 

We are all worse off for LaHart’s lack of an accurate assessment plan and cavalier onboarding techniques. That giant sucking sound you hear? It’s all the present search and rescue skills leaving the room, women and men  including specialists who have served as senior volunteer leaders in medical, wilderness and training teams for the  benefit of our community. When a medical leader introduced herself to the chief, instead of asking her for a  SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis about that role, LaHart challenged  who  had made her leader. It is a matter of public record that she stated she had never been so quickly and completely  disrespected in 25 years of her work on medical teams and as a Major in the Army. Chain of command is something  she is familiar with; utter disrespect is another thing. Shame on us all for letting this happen — bullying behavior in  our midst — and to let her leave along with her KSAR team members without a grateful farewell.

At a minimum, I’d like to ask the powers that be to create a plaque recognizing all members by name who have  served as members of KSAR since its formation, including their years of service and specific roles. I ask this be  installed in the new public safety building. This is only appropriate because we are a mountain resort, after all, and  KSAR team members have gone to great lengths over the years to navigate the misunderstandings and  misadventures of our town leadership. 

In the end, they tried very carefully over the years to make our unique  mountain community safer by volunteering their specific skilled service to public safety in the mountains, even if  some members of the board or in the town administration didn’t understand as well as the state search and rescue  leadership.  

Clymer has put us on notice that standing down KSAR now leaves a gap in Vermont public safety. We must remember  KSAR’s skilled volunteer service with a grateful heart, and thank them publicly lest we repeat our mistakes and  continue to risk the public safety of our Killington community and continue to carve a gap in the state search and  rescue public safety. We owe it to each other, our children and the public we host to begin to remedy this situation as  soon as possible. 

Let’s remember we are a town with strong women alpine heroes amongst our brave male community builders,  including our local olympian, Andrea Mead Lawrence, her mother, Janet Mead, who started Pico Mountain, and our Killington World Cup event itself on the FIS Women’s Alpine calendar. 

Let’s get back to our roots and reclaim our mountain credibility. 

With a grateful heart.

Eileen Doohan,


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