The Grand County Sheriff’s Office (GCS0) presented a needs assessment for emergencies on Grand County’s reservoirs and lakes where a boat may be needed.. The GCSO detailed reasons and past circumstances where a boat was needed to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) earlier this spring. According to Sheriff Brett Schroetlin, “Because of the Christopher Mullinex (drowning) incident in 2015, we quickly learned we don’t have the resources and the equipment to necessarily handle these type of events here in Grand County. We relied on Summit County, we relied on Colorado State Parks, and we relied on our citizens to perform this duty that should be based through the Sheriff Office…”
The Mullinex family is attempting to turn their tragedy into prevention for others. They have tried to ensure that others will always be wearing a life jacket by providing and maintaining Life Jacket Loaner Stations at Lake Granby. They have also provided water safety instruction at schools. Now they are encouraging the GCSO to take a more active role in prevention of water accidents and the recovery of loved ones if necessary. The GCSO had a 22 foot Boston Whaler cabin cruiser donated to the department after the drowning of Christopher Mullinex.
Unfortunately, the boat has required too much maintenance for the GCSO to continue its use, but the GCSO was able to use the boat on Green Mountain Reservoir in August of 2015 in a drowning incident of a fifteen year old boy from Summit County.
Lieutenant Dan Mayer of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) explains the support role and response that the GCSO provided for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office could have possibly saved the lives of the father and uncle who continued to risk their lives to search the waters for the boy. Mayer said GCSO was able to help mark the area to help find the boy and assisted the Summit Dive team in the recovery. In drowning incidences, recovery of the body for the family can seem as important as a rescue.
“When someone is agonizing over family member or somebody is in the water, it does become an emergency,” said Mayer.
Kem Davidson, Reservoir Operator at Wolford Mountain Reservoir, north of Kremmling, cited a similar incident in 2006 when a routine boat patrol had come across a nine year-old girl whose father had just drowned when he swam out away from her and believed she was in distress.
“The boat patrol was not there when the dad drowned, but it was there within 20 minutes of the drowning and possibly the saved the girl. The boat patrol was also able to buoy the area where the dad drowned for recovery of the body, “Davidson explained.
In contrast, Davidson explained when a man had drowned in the Reservoir mid-week in 1999, no one had even realized he was out on the water. Davidson who has held her position since the dam was filled in 1993, says that since then security on the water has increased with required mussel inspections, but that Colorado River District (CRD), the owners of the dam, have always taken the security of those recreating on the water seriously. The CRD purchased a Sea-Arc in 1995 for routine patrols and budgets annually for someone to patrol during the weekends from typically Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Initially, the CRD subcontracted with the Sheriff’s office for routine patrols, but found that due to staff limitations at the Sheriff’s office patrol hours were often sparse. The CRD then recruited those with a military or law enforcement background to do their patrols. Currently, Jack DeSanti, retired Colorado State Trooper, serves as an operator and weekend patrolman. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife does do patrols on every lake in the county, but usually for fishing and wildlife violations. Davidson comments,
“The presence of the boat truly makes a difference. We work with the Sheriff’s office if people become a risk to themselves or others. We can have them escorted off the property.”
However, the continued presence on the water can be a reassuring presence as well as an authoritative one.
“Often times the boat is used to help paddle boarders who have been stranded in the wind, boats that have blown over or broken down, and general reminders to use their life jackets and other required safety equipment.” If an emergency situation arises though, the Sea Arc looks official with its colored lights and is equipped with emergency back floats, flags, first aid kit, marker buoys and a towcrane winch.
Mayer, who has been involved in Grand County water rescue calls and drownings, reports the GCSO would predominantly be on Lake Granby and would be available to be moved to all lakes in the county for Patrol, rescue, or recovery needs. Lake Granby is managed by the Forest Service, but they currently don’t do patrols on the lake. The GCSO contracts with the Forest Service to do campfire checks, boat patrols, and snowmobile patrols. Ironically though, neither entity is sufficiently equipped for boat patrols.
With this in mind, Mayer outlined the suggestion for the type of the boat needed for patrolling, towing and extracting individuals from the water and said the boat would be owned and maintained by the county and the GCSO. The ideal boat would be a 21 foot center console, industrial, fiberglass haul boat with a towing engine that would bring with it power and speed. It would have ample space and room for life saving and to be able to haul paramedics and would be equipped with life-saving tools. Mayer estimates the initial cost to be fully equipped for rescue operation and patrols to be between $100,000 and $120,000. In a recovery, sonar equipment may also be needed and would come with an additional price tag.