MONASTERY: Police scouring a field, combing the ground for signs of a missing person; it’s a scenario no one wants to see, but for search and rescue teams that is a scenario that can be all too real.
The Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue Association (SAGSARA), a volunteer-based organization, held a mock search in Monastery on December 2 to mimic what would happen in the case of somebody going missing in the wilderness.
Tony Sampson, information officer with SAGSARA, said more than 35 volunteers participated in the mock search that acted as a way to test equipment and train members in new roles.
“We want to replicate what it’s like to have a large scale search going on so that our members have a chance to practice all of their individual skills, but also to work together,” he said. “It helps pinpoint any irregularities that we may have. I’d rather run into problems or find out something isn’t working here today – rather than on an actual search.”
The training scenario featured the search and rescue of a 42-year-old male hunter, dressed in camouflage, who hadn’t returned home after a day in the woods.
SAGSARA responded to the call at approximately 9 a.m. from the RCMP regarding the missing hunter. His truck was found sitting in a lot on the edge of a wooded area, with parts of a tree stand in the back.
The process started at SAGSARA’s hall where four teams of four people, armed with the latest information, deployed into the woods.
“The first team that was sent in is what we call a hasty team, we put them on a trail or road and it’s a quick way of getting somebody in to begin the search,” Sampson said. “We try to consist our teams of four; we don’t like sending anything less in the woods, we don’t want to leave anybody alone at any one period of time, that way if something happens, we have two staying and have two going.”
The command centre, which is located in the back of a truck, is the epicenter of the search, as it is the direct communication link between the command post and the woods.
Sampson, who has 35-years experience with SAGSARA, said when he first started, they used paper maps, compasses and protractors, now they’re able to use computer technology.
Shortly after 12:40 p.m. the hunter was located with a gunshot wound to the head and injuries to his lower extremities after falling out of his hunting blind. An extraction team trekked into the woods, assessed the hunter, created a splint for his leg, and placed him in an all-terrain mobile stretcher, called a mule.
Many of the SAGSARA team members are trained Wilderness Remote First Responders, which means they are able to quickly assess a person and determine the resources required to evacuate the patient from the woods.
With SAGSARA’s membership scattered across the Strait area, the group is aiming to have a search manager, the person in charge of the search, in every different corner of their jurisdiction.
“It wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. that we were able to send out our first teams, it takes so long to get started, get everybody there and get going and get what you need,” Sampson advised. “If we have the members, the great part is if a call comes in from [a location] and if the search manager is available, he can start hitting the ground, before we even get there.”
In Nova Scotia there are approximately 1,400 volunteers on 23 different teams who dedicate their time to search and rescue operations.
There are currently 75 volunteer members of the SAGSARA, something Sampson exclaims has increased from a dismal 15 people since acquiring the former bingo hall in Monastery, which they’ve turned into their current home.
Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue covers Richmond, Antigonish, and Guysborough counties, part of Inverness County, the Town of Port Hawkesbury, the Town of Antigonish, and the Town of Mulgrave.