Thousands of dollars in equipment was stolen from a volunteer rescue squad sometime between rescuers leaving their base after spending hours on rescue calls in the Linville Gorge and before they returned to the base for training Saturday morning.
Wes Taylor, a battalion chief with the Burke County Rescue Squad, said rescuers found some things laying outside of a trailer when they arrived for training Saturday morning.
“We went out to look and found that some of the padlocks had been cut off our trailers,” Taylor said. “They removed both of our ATVs that we use for search and rescue on a regular basis, stole our generator, stole radios out of the trailer, helmets and various other equipment.”
Taylor said three trailers had been broken into, and the culprit tried to break into a fourth trailer but apparently gave up. The stolen equipment has a value of $20,000-$30,000.
The rescue squad is an organization of volunteers who respond to all kinds of calls around the county, from high-angle rescues in the Linville Gorge to medical calls around town.
“We operate off a limited budget from the county and donations from citizens,” Taylor said. “We work off a very, very restrictive budget so something like this hits us really hard. It takes out a good part of our budget.”
Taylor said they’ll be able to file an insurance claim, but the missing equipment still hampers rescue efforts for calls around the county. Other departments with rescue functions have told the squad that they will lend their equipment to them whenever it is needed, but it still puts a damper on response.
“It puts a big damper on our emergency response,” Taylor said. “Being able to respond to calls on Brown Mountain, calls in the wilderness, these are tools that we use frequently and now we are without.”
It wasn’t just an organization that was stolen from, Taylor said.
“You’re stealing from the citizens of Burke County,” he said. “None of this equipment goes to serve one person, it goes to serve the community and those in need. Right now, there will be people who suffer because of this.”
And just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean the squad isn’t responding to rescue calls.
“It’s absolutely year-round,” Taylor said. “We use them in town. You’d be surprised at how often these things get used. We use them at festivals throughout the year, we use them anytime someone’s off of a roadway. It’s a lot faster to load them up on our ATVs and trailer and ride them out than it is to carry someone out. It definitely hurts.”
Lt. W. Lackey with the Morganton Department of Public Safety said whoever committed the crime is stealing from their friends and neighbors.
“How many hundreds of thousands of hours have [BCRS members] spent in the Gorge looking for people?” Lackey said. “How many medical calls have they run? The people who are responsible need to think about things like that.”
He encouraged whoever is responsible to step forward.
“Whoever it is, if they come in and talk to us and we can get all this needed equipment back for a very worthwhile service that these gentlemen and ladies provide to Burke County, we may possibly be able to work with them,” Lackey said. “Otherwise, our CID will investigate and we’ll prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
Lackey thought that maybe the guilt would get the person to step forward.
“I don’t know who could go to bed and get a sound night’s sleep knowing that they’re potentially putting their friends and neighbors and family, for that matter, in harm’s way because these guys go out all the time on every EMS call,” he said.
That person should know, though, if they need help from BCRS, they’ll respond the same as always.
“It doesn’t matter who it is,” Taylor said. “We don’t ask questions. When someone calls and says they need help, we respond regardless. If they were to drive that thing around and wreck it somewhere, we would still come and we would still provide the level of care that we would to anyone else.”
The stolen ATVs are described as a red 2005 Honda Rincon and a blue 2016 Polaris, Taylor said. They should have a BCRS sticker on them, or a round impression where the sticker would have been peeled off. He said it’s likely that there’s medical equipment inside the compartments on the ATVs.
There aren’t any surveillance photos available of a suspect, but Taylor said they believe whoever stole the equipment had a trailer or made multiple trips to the base.
Anyone who saw or knows anything that may be of help in the investigation is asked to call MDPS at 828-437-1211 or 828-437-1911.