Two locals to serve on search and rescue panel

MIDDLEBURY — Two Addison County residents will help draft a new Vermont search-and-rescue policy in the aftermath of the Levi Duclos tragedy.
Participating on the new search and rescue committee created by the Legislature that will help craft that policy will be Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, and David Shaw, assistant chief of the Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department.
Duclos, a 19-year-old New Haven resident, died of hypothermia during a Jan. 9 hike along the Emily Proctor Trail in Ripton. Vermont State Police drew widespread criticism for its response time following the Duclos family’s 911 call and for its lack of coordination with local rescue teams that had been available to participate in the search.
State lawmakers quickly drafted a bill calling for a new plan for responding to hikers who are missing or in distress. That legislation, recently signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin as Act 155, calls for creation of a 13-member “Search and Rescue Strategic Plan Development Committee.”
That committee, to convene for the first time on July 11, is charged with 12 tasks, including:
•  Reviewing the existing structure for search and rescue operations in Vermont and what might be its advantages and shortcomings.
•  Considering models used in other states for managing search and rescue operations.
•  Determining whether the Vermont Department of Public Safety or a different state agency should be responsible for supervising search and rescue operations for people who are missing, lost, or stranded in the outdoors on Vermont’s land or inland waterways.
•  Determining whether minimum qualifications, certification, or other credentialing should be required for persons participating in search and rescue operations, and whether search and rescue responders who are not state employees should be provided with insurance coverage.
•  Developing a database of available statewide resources capable of assisting in search and rescue operations, which may be organized pursuant to different geographic regions of the state.
•      Recommending methods of balancing speed and safety in responding to calls in order to create the greatest level of efficiency.
•  Determining whether firefighters and law enforcement officers should be required to obtain training in search and rescue operations and on the incident command system as part of their certification or recertification obligations.
The committee will meet up to five times this summer and fall with the mandate of coming up with a report by mid-December. The 2013 Legislature will then review the report for potential action.
The Vermont Coalition of Fire & Rescue Services, Inc, appointed Shaw, a founder and mainstay on the Middlebury Fire Department’s technical rescue team, to the committee.
Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, appointed Jewett, the House majority whip and representative of the Addison-2 district in which Duclos met his untimely fate, to the panel.
Both men said they look forward to serving and making their respective marks on the committee report.
“Fundamentally, we’ve got to restore confidence,” Jewett said of the committee’s mission.
And Jewett believes the panel’s work can yield benefits beyond the scope of search and rescue.
“It can provide a vehicle of discussion with the public safety folks on what we, as community members, expect from them,” he said.
Shaw will represent the perspective of a volunteer firefighter with more than three decades of experience as an emergency responder. He has spent the past six years as part of Middlebury’s technical rescue team, which receives special training to help lost and/or injured people in wilderness, bodies of water or other remote locations.
The group is currently considering a request that it become the go-to technical rescue organization for Addison, Bennington and Rutland counties. Middlebury Technical Rescue most recently assisted Vermont State Police in the search for Yadji Moussa, 55, who died while swimming in the Otter Creek on June 21.
Shaw accepted the committee appointment after receiving a green light from his employer, Goodro Lumber of East Middlebury. He believes he can bring a “common-sense, volunteer perspective” to the committee.
“(What I) would really love to have happen is that the state police need to think outside their matrix on these situations,” Shaw said. “It is very cookie-cutter to them. They have a standard form that they fill out… Not every situation is a crime scene. In the fire service, our situations tend to accelerate when we get there and the police department situations tend to decelerate when they get there. The crime has been committed and they come after the fact. In the fire service, the fire starts and it is building as you are arriving. We need to fully understand how both agencies work.”
The Duclos angle to the committee’s work is an added source of inspiration for Shaw, who knows the family.
“It happened in Addison County and I think it is kind of unique that Addison County can get a voice in the process,” he said.
Dean Gilmore is assistant chief of the New Haven Fire department and chairman of the Vermont State Firefighters’ Association’s governmental affairs committee.  He has some basic hopes for the search and rescue committee and its work.
“I hope they come up with a very good plan, where everybody works together,” Gilmore said. “It doesn’t matter who is in charge (of a search) as long as it is a team effort and everyone is striving for the same outcome.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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