By Laurence Pierson
It is two o’clock in the morning. The weather outside is cold and wet. The alarm on the cell phone goes off signaling that a search is getting underway. What type of person would leave the warm comfort of their home to begin searching a remote and sometimes treacherous area in order to find a missing child? The type of person who is willing to make the sacrifice needed to save the life of a missing person– that’s the type of person that the Search and Rescue team of Kent County is looking for.
I have often wondered who the people were that I have seen on the local news conducting searches. I recently attended an open house for the Search and Rescue team to find out more about them. It was a certainly an eye opening experience. My contact person was Brian Toronyi. He has been a member for 4 years and is the deputy director and HR representative.
The group consists of about 70 volunteer members and they work in close coordination with the Kent County Sheriff Office. Last year they conducted 16 searches with an average team size of 50 people. The Kent County group is considered to be the best in the state and one of the Midwest’s leading organizations. They set a standard of excellence and provide training for other Search and Rescue organizations.
Their searches are treated as a law enforcement matter and are held to a high degree of confidentiality. The missing people are often young children, or an elderly person suffering from dementia. Sometimes the missing subject is autistic, despondent or suicidal. In some cases the person is missing but does not want to be found. Before a search begins, the team needs to analyze the profile of the search subject in order to refine the search requirements. In fact there is a book, “Lost Person Behavior” that helps develop the search method for different types of individuals. A successful search may have a happy ending, or it may not. The subject might not be found alive or may be the victim of a crime. If an elderly person wanders off, there is only a 50-50 chance that they will survive for 24 hours. Search and Rescue is a very serious business conducted by highly trained and dedicated individuals.
The open house I attended is used to recruit new members who can strengthen the team. Most of the folks in attendance wanted to find a way to help their community as an active participant. They were looking for a new challenge and new skills which could be put to use in helping others. However, you cannot just walk in and sign up. This is a very exclusive group looking for only the best people.
Here are some of the first steps you will take on your way to becoming a team member. Upon passing a background check and gaining acceptance into the program, you are a considered to be a probationary member. You will become a licensed amateur radio operator, will receive training in first aid, CPR, crime scene awareness, extraction and rescue and many other areas. You will learn to work with their dogs. (The bloodhound Emma was in attendance at this meeting). You will take part in field exercises and earn many certifications. Eventually you may receive national certification. The initial probation period takes 3 to 6 months and usually requires 40 hours of training. If you think all of this sounds fun, you will love the activity coming up next month, winter survival training. How about a camp out in February–especially in the type of weather we have been having as of late.
The training is not easy, and it is not meant to be. This team needs people they can rely on, people who are truly dedicated to their mission. It will take about 18 months to become fully trained. At that point you are a full team member with many opportunities to continue with your training and growth in this challenging endeavor.
I came away from the meeting with a great sense of pride in the work these people do. These are the people who are willing to do the gritty work that often goes unrecognized. They take pride in themselves, their team and the work they do. They willing to take on a mission regardless of the conditions and work their hardest to accomplish the task. Although the demands are great, being part of this team is immensely rewarding. These members experience a sense of camaraderie and develop lifelong friendships. But most importantly, their dedication provides us with a resource we can rely on should a loved one be missing.