Local residents volunteer on the county rescue team
Scot Woodland has searched for missing people through rain, snow and scorching heat. Irrespective of the hour and weather conditions.
If Woodland’s pager tells him someone’s missing, he’s out at once looking for him.
Woodland is one of the 120 volunteers who work with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team. The group conducts an average of 30 searches a year, Corp. Walt Jones, coordinator of the team, said.
Though the job can be arduous, Woodland – like his colleagues – is hooked because of the camaraderie among team-mates, the high adrenaline rush and the humanitarian aspect of recovering someone lost in the wilderness.
“You want to help people out there,” Woodland, 55, said. “If you or your family member were lost, you’d want the same kind of effort. You don’t want anyone dying out there if you can help it. It’s a race against time once you’re out on a search.”
The rescue team is alerted by the sheriff’s office when someone goes missing, Woodland said.
“The minute you wake up in the morning (responding to a call), your adrenaline starts rushing because you start thinking of all the possibilities from the brief pager message you got,” Woodland said.
Woodland is part of a “haste team,” a sub-group of the rescue team, which often arrives first on the scene of the search to determine – if possible – which way the missing person may have gone, he said.
“We listen to the sounds of the forest; we smell cigarette smoke, deodorants. We look for clues like broken twigs and footprints,” Woodland said. “A person leaves over 3,000 footprints every mile. If you pick up five of those, it’s a great clue.”
The absence of apparent clues is also a clue that proves the missing person isn’t there in the area being searched, Woodland said.
Woodland started volunteering with the rescue team in 2004, he said. To join the group, he underwent a training session which taught him “basic rescue and man-tracking skills, CPR, first aid and how to use maps and a compass,” he said.
The rescue team also trains as a group every month doing mock searches, water searches and honing miscellaneous search techniques, Woodland said.
“We learn how to use a GPS, how to use maps, how to use ropes, how to get a person out of a rugged terrain,” said 62-year-old Donna Martin, who’s been on rescue teams since the 1980s. “We do a lot of training and it’s very rewarding.”
Anna Masucci, 43, joined the rescue team two years ago to get more involved in the community and maintain her fitness, she said.
“The camaraderie in our team” keeps her committed to the job, Masucci said.
“We’ll get out of bed in the middle of the night when our pager goes off, dress up and walk out the door to search for someone,” Masucci said. “I don’t think twice to get in my car because someone out there is missing a family member and I can’t begin to think what the waiting period must be like.”
“Operate as a team”
The search can be particularly difficult when it involves missing children, Woodland said.
“When you search for kids, you feel the sense of urgency more than in other searches,” he said. “You have to get inside the mindset of the people you’re looking for.
“Little kids sometimes won’t respond even if you call out their names. They can hide and watch you walk by. Alzheimer’s patients don’t respond either,” he said.
So far, Woodland has participated in three searches involving children and four involving Alzheimer’s patients, he said. On all cases, the missing people were found, he added.
The search can sometimes time take an emotional turn when the missing person is found dead, Masucci said.
“But you have to keep your mind on the task because you have a job to do,” she said. “When we are in uniform, we maintain a professionalism about us. When you’re wearing a search and rescue badge, your adrenalin is going. You’re on a mission.”
Finally, it’s the team work that fetches results, Martin said.
“It’s not a single person who finds the missing person,” she said. “You have to operate as a team. It’s the most wonderful group of people you can work with and it’s truly a lot of fun.”
To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4229.
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