A weekend incident on the North Fork called into question the response — or more accurately, the lack thereof — of the Park County Sheriff's office.
It took seven calls to dispatch for Search and Rescue aid -- five from U.S. Forest Service employees or volunteers -- before the Sheriff's Office sent a deputy to assess the situation. The man requesting help was stranded on the far side of the dangerously-high Shoshone River, in heavy rain and mid-40-degree temperatures, with daylight going fast.
He later admitted to being poorly prepared — without food, water or proper clothing — for what he intended to be an hour-long jaunt from his North Fork campsite.
Deputy Aaron Rose said, when he arrived at the scene, “Ninety percent of Search and Rescue cases are due to bad judgment.”
But bad judgment on the hiker's part didn't warrant the sheriff's office lackadaisical — or worse — response.
In a follow-up conversation, Deputy Kirk Waggoner, the Search and Rescue liaison, said the Sheriff's office did not consider the situation an emergency — either before or after the rescue, but decided to err on the side of caution. He asked: “How do you get lost on a river? You either walk upstream or downstream.”
Ultimately, Search and Rescue did respond and brought the hiker to safety, but not before other friends and bystanders considered drastic, dangerous measures. The cold, wet, disoriented hiker said it wasn't as simple as walking upstream or downstream. That's why he asked for help.
Park County Search and Rescue's mission statement says its mission will be met “by responding to calls for assistance in searching for lost or missing persons and rescuing persons in distress.”
While not lost or injured, this hiker was clearly in distress, as indicated by the multiple calls to 911 and county dispatchers.
The Sheriff's office's reluctance to respond — without even an on-the-scene assessment — seems contrary to Search and Rescue's mission and, more broadly, to the role of a law enforcement agency serving the county's citizens.