The Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse weathered COVID-19 in 2020, but the all-volunteer organization was busy helping the county respond to the pandemic, as well as with several wildfires and its customary search and rescue operations.

The posse needs community support to conduct its thousands of hours of volunteer work and has again sent out an annual fundraising letter to help its operations.

“It was an interesting year because of COVID,” MCSO Posse Director Mark Rackay said Tuesday. “It changed our stance a little bit on the way we have to operate. It’s hard to train or go on a mission together when you have to be 6 feet apart.”

The pandemic prompted Montrose County to open a call center at the Emergency Operations Management building, which the posse staffed for the first few months.

“We spent a great deal of time last spring manning the COVID hotlines for the county and assisting the emergency manager and sheriff through that,” Rackay said.

“When COVID was (first) going on, we were working six days a week. We were going back and forth to Grand Junction, getting supplies from the emergency stockpile. We set up cots at schools. We worked a bunch of hours until the county took it (hotline) over. When it was just getting kicked up, we put a bunch of hours in there,” he added.

When the county public health division was able to take over, the posse reverted to its normal operations. Although the pandemic canceled events and parades for which the posse would ordinarily provide security or traffic control, members were plenty busy with search and rescue ops, and related assistance.

“People were recreating outside in the mountains a fair amount. Our normal call load was pretty much the same,” Rackay said, pointing to off-road vehicle accidents, hiking accidents and lost hunters.

The sheriff’s office and WestCO dispatch are integral to posse success.

“The support we’ve had from this administration (MCSO) has been phenomenal. Our communication is very good between each of our agencies. It has helped us to shorten our response time,” Rackay said.

Overall, volunteers with the Montrose and West End posse divisions contributed about 3,700 hours of work for which the MCSO and, hence, the taxpayers, did not have to pay.

The posse even lends a hand for wildfires on private property and last year, helped on four.

“That’s the biggest danger we faced,” new MCSO Posse President Lewis Weingard.

Other posse officers for 2021 are Dan Hiebert, vice president; Robert Culver, supply officer; Don Bertorello, secretary; Paul Martin, treasurer and Rackay, director and public information officer. Sheriff Gene Lillard swore them in Monday.

Weingard has been with the posse for two years. He wanted to volunteer in an organization related to law enforcement and first response.

“I didn’t want to be a law enforcement officer, but when I found the posse is a volunteer-based organization I could join, it was something where I could give back to the community. I feel like my heart is there and I can really give back,” he said.

The posse provides and maintains its own equipment and supplies. Some of the vehicles are more than 20 years old and much of the equipment, including a trailer, needs a lot of maintenance.

“We work off the support of all the citizens. We don’t make any money. We don’t get paid. To keep our vehicles on the road and rescue somebody … we’ve got to maintain our vehicles and lots of different things like that,” Weingard said.

“We could sure use the help this year. We don’t know what COVID’s going to leave us with,” Rackay said. “It’s tough to ask people for help, but we need it.”

The fundraising letters will come directly from the posse. The posse does not call people directly or contact them directly online for money. To donate, mail a check to MCSO Posse, P.O. Box 717, Montrose, CO 81402 or visit mcspi.org. The phone number is 970-252-4033.

“We are holding our own right now,” Weingard said. We do have some expenses coming up in the near future that are going to take some money. If people want to give, they should give what they feel is right for them and not feel pressured into anything.

“We really appreciate donations. That’s strictly how we operate. That’s how we give back. People give us money to operate and when they get in trouble, we come and get them.”

The new year has already been busy, but, fortunately, what the posse considers successful — two saves this past Saturday alone.

The first call came from a couple stranded on Highway 90 with their two dogs. The couple lacked survival gear and warm clothing, but were located and taken back to town.

The same day, the posse received a call from a man with medical issues who said his truck had slid off Rim Road and he could not get out. Although the man was not actually on Rim Road, but up Highway 90 well off road in snow, it took the posse roughly only 90 minutes to find him. The volunteers got the man and his dog safely back to town.

“We saved three people. We saved three dogs. That’s a good way to start the year, when everything turns out with a happy ending,” said Rackay.

“I think 2021 is going to be a great year,” Weingard said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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