Good morning, all!
Director Sam Henley here!
I finally have a few minutes to sit down and update you on training with the Osage Beach Fire Department Search and Rescue Team on October 30th!
I received an invitation last week from Ray Shadow, one of the leaders of the Osage Beach Fire Department Search and Rescue Team, to come out and meet the team and check out one of their training sessions.
My philosophy is simple. To do my job better, I want and need to understand what our first responders and partners do! So when I receive an invitation like this one, I carve out the time to accept the offer and attend!
When I (and a member of the Camden County CERT and a member of the Camden County Teen CERT) arrived, we met several of the K-9 handlers and were given some time to speak with several of them at length. We were also joined by members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol!
I think I asked a hundred questions of Rox, one of the handlers, and she patiently answered EVERY single one. Her dog is Max, a young german shepherd. Below are some of the things I learned from her.
The dogs DO NOT belong to the city, county, or any other agency. The dogs belong directly to the handlers.
The team is 100% VOLUNTEER. Most of the members seem to be first responders or ex-responders/military/etc. in some way, from what I understood, and they wanted to find a way to help people even more!
The team trains every single week at Osage Beach Fire Station #3.
Each dog has its own signal or indicator that it has picked up on a person or trail.
Training during extreme weather still exists for the team, but they go easy on the main dogs so they are ready if they are called for real searches during that time. The team uses this time to work more with newer members of the team, both two AND four-legged.
No one comes into the team completely ready. The team works together to help the handlers learn to understand signals their dogs give and helps guide the dog to respond to commands.
There is a huge difference between a tracking dog and a SAR dog. Tracking dogs are given a scent and asked to find a particular person. SAR dogs are not given a scent. They search for ANY concentration of human scent which isn’t a member of the SAR Team.
The dogs track a lot further and faster than the handlers and team.
Never pet the dog when it is working!
The dog circles and sniffs each member of the team to rule out their scent.
Only ONE dog and handler team is sent out at a time to keep from confusing them unless there is more than one area to search in a ninety-degree or opposing direction. Deployed with the dog and handler are the additional searchers who take up flanking positions to continue visually searching the area for signs of human beings, such as clothing or other personal belongings, food wrappers, and more!
GPS trackers are attached to the dog, the handler, and each member of the team. This allows the command part of the team back at the Bluebird (Camden County EMA’s Communications Bus) to track every member and the dog when they are out searching. This also helps for reviews and training during the ongoing training sessions.
The team has one person deployed with them who handles the radio communications back to the Bluebird so the remaining members can focus on the search.
The team moves as a whole, single unit. If one person gets tired or injured, the whole team returns to the Command Post together and then redeploys after they see the tired or injured team member back to safety.
Safety is the team’s number one concern.
Handlers are taught to watch their dogs closely because the dogs don’t respond to heat and cold like humans do. They are so excited to run around searching, they can’t tell the handlers they are getting hot or tired.
I was fortunate enough to stay in the Bluebird for one of the practice searches so I could learn more about how that end of the operation worked. Those working at the Command Post relay information, track the team, pin locations of interest or evidence on the maps, and so much more.
The SAR Team also has a small drone to use in addition to the dogs. The team is hoping to upgrade to a larger, newer drone soon. Two of their members have their FCC drone licenses and the rest of the team has observer licenses.
I was also given a chance to do a search with the team. It was HARD going, at least for me! A lot of it was not bad, as we stayed in areas with low or no brush, but WOW, when we got into the woods, hills, and valleys, THAT was a workout!
Layers, layers, layers. Always wear long pants and sleeves, as well as good boots or shoes with deep treads. Bushes, trees, and stickers love to grab and poke and scratch anything you don’t have covered!
Finally, the best news of the day in my humble opinion, is that the EMA and CERT were given an open invitation to train on search and rescues with the team ANY TIME! This is a huge opportunity for the CERT to work directly with a highly trained team.
I appreciated this opportunity and invitation so deeply. It was a fantastic learning experience I know I will repeat!