The LCSTARs page was established to recognize the achievements of team members who have gone above and beyond the necessary requirements to be a professional search and rescue person. They are truly an inspiration to other team members. It is also about getting to know our fellow team members and getting a peek at what makes them tick and some insight into the diverse kinds of people that join the SAR community and what they find so captivating about their experience.
Lee Curtis, that dedicated British chap among us
by Mike Fink - published in the Winter of 1999
Born in August of 1947 in London. Still a citizen of the United Kingdom. Served in Vietnam in the United States Navy. Currently holds a Rescue rating with LCSAR and served as Quartermaster for 3 years. Answers to the name of Lee Curtis. And he was awarded for his perseverance in 1998 by President Ken Klein at the LCSAR Christmas Party. But more on that later…
Lee's' family has lived in London for as far back as records can be found. As a child, he played in bombed out buildings there after World War II. His home was lost to the bombing and they were moved to a little 4-room, pre-fabbed metal house provided by the government at low cost to the thousands of survivors. He moved to the United States in 1957, with his mom, to her sister's farm in Connecticut. This was home for 21 years. Lee started grammar school while in England and then finished that and then went on to high school in Connecticut.
After a few enjoyable semesters of drafting in a technical school, Lee went to work. Maintenance, mechanics and carpentry were all skills that became a passion but a layoff turned things momentarily ominous. A particular love for carpentry and some inherited skills and tools from his father allowed Lee to step into a job in this field that was ironically created when his father passed. Lee started as an apprentice but eventually worked his way up to the Maintenance Supervisor spot that his dad held.
Lee's love for travel brought him and his wife to Colorado in 1977. The trip covered 7000 miles in two weeks, starting on the East coast, up through Canada to Alberta then down through Montana, Wyoming Colorado etc. and then back on a southerly route. They fell in love with the Rockies, particularly the Colorado mountains and vowed to move there as soon as they could. With all the family still being in Connecticut, the decision was difficult. Another trip in the spring of '78 turned the tide. They especially liked the Ft. Collins / Loveland area and were back on Lee's' birthday, August 6 1978, with all their worldly possessions but no jobs, no friends, and no place to live. They found a mobile home to rent out on East Mulberry.
While scanning the paper for jobs, Lee found an opening in maintenance at Poudre Valley Hospital and was hired on the spot because of his carpentry skills. I think he kind of liked it because he is still there today!
A love for the mountains, a love for personal challenges and a desire to help his fellow man brought Lee to LCSAR in 1987. Stories in the news prompted a call to the Sheriff's Department but Lee was concerned, as most of us are, that his skills would keep him from being accepted. He was sure that the requirements would include leaping tall buildings, flying helicopters, climbing Everest and being an ER Doc. Don Davis assured him that these skills would not be necessary until after the first month in BASART. Lee remembers learning to tie knots behind his back from Von Andrews. And the final exercise at Grey Rock as the brakeman on a steep section with 6 litter handlers and two figure-8's in series and not enough friction in the system leading to some nasty rope burns as Lee had to run some wraps around his arms to slow things down.
A "conglomeration" of events over the years has made Lee a "SAR-lifer" and future mossback. But a few events always stick out as being major reinforcement of this commitment. Old Man Mountain and a young man wedged into a crack in a cave, really wedged in the crack, brought tears the eyes of rescuers Lee Curtis and Terry Leahy. Access to his arms and the very lower part of his legs was all they had and there was only room for one person at each end. They finally came up with haul systems that applied a side force along with pulling that allowed him to pivot about 90 degrees. The boy was weakening and they knew they were running out of time. They couldn't move the rocks and they knew he would die if they stopped.
Literally hours had been spent pulling and pushing. Finally their very cold subject was free, with just some scrapes and bruises. The mental and physical strain of this unusual scenario led to a very emotional success story for our Mr's. Curtis and Leahy as they hugged and cried at the bottom of the hole. Lee's most humorous memories are of being blindfolded, hanging on to a rope, and being told he and the rest of the participants were suppose to form a square. Or being given 4 or 5 small carpet squares and told that he is supposed to cross an "acid" river with 10 others while stepping on these acid-proof "rocks", and don't forget to bring all the rocks with you to the other side! All in the name of team-building.
As far as humorous missions, one that others, including Lee, note without hesitation, was "horrendous" at the time but can laugh now… He remembers that the only medical problem found was a bladder infection. This being the time LCSAR was called to Pingree Park for a woman who was several miles back and unable to walk out. Team members packaged her in the litter then hauled her up through a boulder field, above timberline, in raging, howling wind, all night, to get her to an LZ as the sun came up. Shortly after being packaged the woman insisted she was well enough to get out long enough to go to the bathroom. Due to her stated injuries and complaints this could not be allowed and she was instructed to do what she had to do right where she was. "Ugly with a capital Ug". Sometimes you have to find humor in just about everything to maintain your SAR-sanity.
"You not only have to do the right things, but you have to do things right," as Lee quotes from PVH philosophy saying to describe LCSAR. He feels quite strongly that we are doing both. As well as growing and maturing and continually improving. Personally speaking, Lee states that he is growing too… old that is. As you may or may not be aware, earlier this year he was struggling with losses of balance, tingling extremities and profound weakness that doctors had difficulty diagnosing. Finally after numerous tests, and several months, and symptoms that sometimes pointed to Multiple Sclerosis, surgery was done to fuse damaged vertebrae in Lee's neck. He is not back to 100% and isn't sure if he ever will be but he is improving and relieved to know he does not have some of the other ailments that this could have been.
I asked Lee to comment on the problem of mission participation. He is in favor of tracking mission in addition to training participation to keep ones' ratings, and has encouraged the Training Committee to continue to look at ways to do this. This might provide some incentive in addition to giving other ways to maintain a rating.
As Quartermaster Lee's biggest frustration was babysitting team gear and not always knowing where things were in the truck compartments. A suggestion would be to label the compartments and all of us taking ownership of putting things back where they belong, immediately after use. Labeling was discouraged in the past because of the obvious advertisement to thieves with the vehicles being parked in the street. This is no longer the case, at least for Larimer 10. I think Lee will be talking to Ron in the near future about several ideas he has! Lee is confident we will survive the "No BASART" year without major problems because of the quality and numbers of people we currently have, the level of our exposure in the community, and the methods in place for bringing good people in to the team.
Lee is proud of his British heritage and traditions and enjoys his trips home every few years where he can walk through customs there and hear "welcome home sir." But this is home too and he is very content living here where he has to pay taxes, proud of the 13 months he spent 60 miles south of Saigon around 1968, and doesn't mind too much that he is not allowed to vote.
Of all things, Lee is grateful for having been given the opportunity to be a member of LCSAR and is very proud of this group of friends and team members he is an active part of. He reflects back on his childhood and a guy they called "Tedd'er" and volunteers with the revered Royal National Life Boat Institute who go out in the worst weather and risk their lives to rescue shipwreck victims, and SAR helicopter crews in Vietnam on the Mekong Delta who similarly take extreme risks in the hope of saving a life. We all have the same desire to help, and rewards of saving lives, and respect of the community and pride and camaraderie.