WATERBURY — Vermont State Police issued a statement today saying they are revising their search and rescue policy.
The move comes after VSP received public criticism for their slow response last month to the report of a hiker missing in the Green Mountains — 19-year-old Levi Duclos — who subsequently died on the trail.
Officials said they were updating their search and rescue policy in consultation with state legislators and fire officials, and as a result of a comparison to national search and rescue protocols.
VSP officials were thin on details about their new policy. Their press release said the revised policy will formalize customary and successful search and rescue practices. It includes language that addresses the official notification by the local station commanders or on-scene supervisors to the local fire chief and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife district commander, as well as the establishment of unified command for search and rescue incidents.
VSP anticipates the final policy to be complete soon, and disseminated to members. They did not make a draft policy available for review.
“There is always room for improvement,” said VSP Commander Col. Tom L’Esperance in the press release. “Any agency, when faced with challenges, must be willing to critically evaluate their process and incorporate ever-evolving best practices. The end result is a safer Vermont.”
L’Esperance and John Wood, deputy commissioner of public safety, asked for input to the drafted policy changes at a Sunday meeting with fire officials in Addison County, including Dave Shaw, vice president of the Addison County Firefighters Association and an officer in the Middlebury Fire Department
“The fire chiefs on the association appreciate the opportunity to lend their expertise to the proposed policy changes; which will allow for a coordinated and unified response to search and rescue operations in Vermont,” Shaw said in the press release. “As such we support the Vermont State Police continued administration of search and rescue operations in Vermont.”
Matthew Vinci, president of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont, is quoted in the release as saying: “The public is best served when local and state resources work together to respond to the needs of our state. And I applaud the leadership at the Department of Public Safety for working to formulate a plan that is very responsive to the people who live, work, and visit Vermont.”
L’Esperance and Wood also met collectively and independently with several lawmakers during the last week to listen to recommendations regarding the policy.
Two Addison County state representatives — David Sharpe, D-Bristol, and Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln — said in the press release issued by the state police that they had spoken with public safety officials and they appreciated the Vermont State Police’s willingness to discuss, review, and modify their policy to include notification and involvement of trained local fire resources.
Hartford Fire Department Chief Steven Locke, who is also a member of the Technical Rescue Group and is the chair of the Vermont Fire Rescue Services Coalition in Vermont, said, “I am confident that this revised policy will ensure a collaborative response to missing and lost persons by state and local responders and thereby allowing the best chance of a successful outcome.”