Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue tests real skills in mock search

    The Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue Association participated in a mock serach in Monastery on Sunday. The training scenario featured the search and rescue of a 42-year-old male hunter, who had a gunshot wound to the head and injuries to his lower extremities.

    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.

    Photos by Drake Lowthers
    Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue Association information officer Tony Sampson showcases the groups diverse service area during a mock search on December 2 at the group’s hall in Monastery.

    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.

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    “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.”

    Inside the master control room, communication between the command post and search and rescue teams are tracked in real-time allowing them to know the exact location of each individual team during a search and extraction.

    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.

    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. They are seen here creating a splint for the mock casualty’s leg wound.

    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.”

    A member of the extraction team checks the pulse of the unconscious mock casualty, a hunter who was found with a gunshot wound to his head and injuries to his lower extremities, while another steadied his head as the team stabilized him during SAGSARA’s mock search.

    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.

    Members of the extraction team secure the unconscious mock casualty to an all-terrain mobile stretcher, which is known as a mule. The stretcher is attached to a base with an all-terrain wheel, allowing a group of six people to extract an individual out of the woods, with assistance.

    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.”

    Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue Association participated in a mock search on December 2 in Monastery.

    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.