After about 30 years, Montrose Search and Rescue member leaves his team for a colder climate.
By Mary O’KEEFE
For about 31 years, Bruce Parker has been a member of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team. Being a member of any organization for 30 years is a milestone, but to be a search and rescue member for that long is a little more than just marking an anniversary.
The Montrose Search and Rescue team is on call 24/7, and many times their searches last for days. They, and their families, must get used to them not being at most holiday dinners and called out in the middle of the night. Members search mountainsides under every possible weather condition imaginable and still, when they aren’t on an official call, train for hours – and hours – at a time.
So for Parker to continue to be an active member of the team for three decades is a milestone squared. And now, before beginning his fourth decade, Parker has told the team he is moving and will have to quit the team.
He began his search and rescue career when he was working at a local business. His boss saw an ad in the paper asking for Montrose Search and Rescue volunteers.
Neither he nor his boss knew what the organization was but he wanted to do something to support the community so Parker joined.
“I think [my boss] regretted sending me over here,” Parker said.
Joining the team involved a lot of training and a lot of time away from work. The very first rescue Parker went on was shortly after his training in 1979.
“It was Christmas Eve,” he recalled.
A teenage boy had taken his father’s car and drove over the side of a mountain in the Angeles National Forest. He had committed suicide.
“It was one of those things, we were heading for a Christmas party and we got the call. We rushed to the scene but then found he had been there for [at least] three days,” he said.
The team was told to wait for the Los Angeles County Coroner to arrive. Being the new guy, Parker was excited about being on his first call but hadn’t really thought about the fact that the boy’s body had to be recovered.
He and two other new teammates were told to go over the side of the mountain to the vehicle and the teen.
“Basically the whole way down I was just saying to myself, ‘Don’t trip or fall.’ There was no time to prepare myself that I would be picking up the body,” Parker said.
When they got down to the car they found the man had been thrown out of the driver’s seat and was pinned under the car. It was then that the reality hit him.
On another call, a church teen group had gone hiking at Camp Valcrest in the ANF. They had hiked up the hill when a storm hit and before long they were in whiteout conditions. The church director began finding members of the group and sending them toward the camp’s van.
“When he got to the van he realized two girls had not arrived,” Parker said.
He went back out looking for them. Parker and other members of the search and rescue team had been looking for the group members as well.
“We were going to hike down [the hill] but we made a weird and dumb decision to go down the canyon and climb out through Sulphur Springs. We hoped the other team members would know where we were,” he said.
About a quarter of a mile down hill, Parker and the team found the camp director and the two girls. They had all gotten lost in the blizzard.
“They were lost, being they were from a church camp they just stopped and prayed,” he said.
The decision to join MSR shaped his future career as well. He is the senior lead instructor and coordinator for the CMC Rescue School.
“Bruce teaches us something new every time we go out,” said team member Mike Leum. “He teaches search and rescue for a living, for fire and rescue members. He is up on the most current procedures and equipment.”
“He has 30 years of experience and has seen a lot of changes in the team and with his background, he will be hard to replace,” said Janet Henderson, MSR captain.
Leum said Parker had told the team he wanted to buy a house in Bayfield, Colo. near his sister. The team will feel the loss not only because he was a long time member but because of his experience and knowledge as a teacher.
Parker said he will miss the camaraderie of his team who are also his friends. He won’t be missing the midnight calls for help however; he has already put in his application for the La Plata search and rescue team near his new Colorado home.