Gov. Peter Shumlin held a ceremonial signing of a bill Tuesday that will change the protocol for search and rescue operations.
Act 155 will require an immediate response to every search and rescue call for help regardless of whether the call could be considered a missing person report.
The bill was drafted in response to the tragic death of Levi Duclos, a 19-year-old from New Haven. Duclos died of hypothermia near Ripton on the Emily Proctor Trail. His mother had called for help the night of Jan. 9 when he went missing, but the Vermont State Police did not call search and rescue crews until the next day.
Flanked by local firefighters and members of Duclos’ family, Shumlin praised the work of Levi’s aunt Kathy and lawmakers, including Rep. Willem Jewett who represents the district where Levi died, for getting the bill passed.
“I think we all recognized from the extraordinary tragedy of Levi’s death that we had to look at how we deal with emergency responders,” Shumlin said. “This bill will give us the database and centralized control to ensure that involving all local responders immediately to get to situation of the person who might be in harm’s way.”
The bill requires a committee to develop a database of available resources for assisting in search and rescue operations that could be organized to act in different regions of the state.
The bill hit procedural hurdles in the Senate and changed to give state police more discretion to develop protocol. A compromise version passed late in the session.
In a provision of the new statute, emergency volunteers injured on the job will be eligible receive the same worker’s compensation as paid emergency workers.
The study committee created will review the current protocols for search and rescue operations. The committee will evaluate whether the state police or a different agency should be responsible for supervising search and rescue operations.
Levi Duclos’ mother and aunt thanked the Legislature.
Kathy Duclos, Levi’s aunt, said big changes have already happened for the better. She said, however, that she questioned whether the state police is the right organization to study the search and rescue procedures.
“We’ve known for years that there have been problems and yet it took this before changes were made,” she said.
The study committee will meet up to five times and will report its findings and draft legislation to the Legislature by Dec. 15.
Correction: The original version of this story quoted Kathy Duclos saying “I still wonder about the culture of the state police,” she said. “We’ve known for years and years this had to happen before changes were made. To me that’s a red flag.” She said, “We’ve known for years that there have been problems and yet it took this before changes were made,” she said.