Rescue me

Published 7:45 am Saturday, January 17, 2009

IVOR—Search-and-rescue teams gathered from across the state, donned their gear and tromped out into the woods to find a missing man, a Dominion Power employee who was reportedly despondent.

“We don’t know what we’re going to find out there,” said Kevin Brewer, commander of Tidewater Search and Rescue, as he huddled with other searchers.

Nearly 30 volunteers tracked the man on a recent brisk Saturday morning.

Lucky for them — and the man they were searching for — this was just a practice exercise.

Groups of rescue workers come together from across the state a few times a year and simulate a real missing-person experience.

Nathan Brown, Tidewater Search and Rescue’s plans section chief/training officer, set up clues for the volunteers and stayed in the woods Friday night waiting to be “rescued” in the morning or afternoon. Teams located him at about 2 p.m.

“This is as close to real-world as you can get,” said Brewer.

Bob Allam is commander of Piedmont Search and Rescue and was heading the Saturday exercise in Ivor.

“We have to practice to maintain our skills,” he said about the mission simulation.

Brown left clues along the way and the searchers carried a flier with pertinent information about the missing man.

“We just found out that he’s on medication for depression,” said Roni McClintock of Chesapeake.

Field team leader Tonya Williams of Ivor belongs to both the Tidewater and Piedmont groups.

On Saturday, she headed with a team to a remote area of the 400-acre search site.

Williams said, should a search-and-rescue worker come upon an injured person, they are certified to help.

“Everyone is first aid and CPR qualified,” she said. “We try to provide what medical assistance we can.”

Besides finding footprints, the volunteers may also come upon other “surprises,” such as a meth lab in the woods.

Teams were out checking along power lines, drains and trails.

Members of the Greater Atlantic Rescue Dog team also brought canines to track scents.

“We train every weekend for this,” said Cathy Dodgen of Williamsburg.

Back at base camp, one rescue worker acts as an “angel” for the “missing man — keeping contact with him by cell phone to make sure he’s OK.

That man is Mason Copeland, a lieutenant with Suffolk Fire and Rescue, who also teaches search-and-rescue tactics all over the state.

“It’s rewarding, especially if you have a good outcome,” Copeland said of the search-and-rescue missions. “Even if you find someone who isn’t alive, you are able to give a family closure, which is good, too.”