Fine tuning skills
for future emergencies
Search and Rescue (SAR) team members from Wallowa, Union, Baker, and Umatilla counties fine-tuned their skills this past weekend, June 240-27, in the Salt Creek Summit area of Wallowa County. About 60 SAR volunteers and instructors from the four counties participated in the multi-day training. Wallowa County Search and Rescue (WCSAR) volunteers hosted the event.
Training included swiftwater rescue, tactical fast tracking, advanced incident command, hasty-team and K-9 land searches, rescuing injured hikers from remote locations, and coordination with Civil Air Patrol aircraft.
“Our numbers were down a little from what we expected, but it’s a little late in the season,” said Paige Sully, the event coordinator for WCSAR. “But all in all I think it was great.”
“It was a very good training,” said Jim Akenson, who serves as a WCSAR incident commander and participated in the Incident Command training. “It was fundamental and advanced all rolled into one. As an incident commander, it’s good to see more and more people coming on who can take leadership roles. Everybody I observed did really well.”
Saturday was devoted to classes, most with hands-on field experience.
Tactical tracking, taught by Clifford Pease and Leon Kershaw, was among the most popular classes. Both men track wanted suspects and escaped prisoners for the Umatilla County sheriff and other law enforcement. Their “fast-tracking” techniques have allowed them to follow and apprehend escaped convicts more than 40 miles in three days.
“It’s important to pay attention to the small things that people leave along their path, including actual tracks as well as bent twigs, scuffs, and other spoor (sign,)” Pease said. “It’s often possible to determining a general path and send a team ahead along that line to pick up spoor (tracks) farther ahead, and close the time-distance gap. You can find the lost person quicker that way.”
The trackers also worked with Wallowa County’s two tracking K-9 teams—Heather Howard and her dog Gracie, and Edward “Vern” Vernarsky and his dog Trooper. “I didn’t have too much faith in dogs before this,” Pease said. “But I really learned a lot. These K-9 teams are top-notch.”
“I really thought the tracking class was great,” said Holly Akenson, WCSAR K-9 team leader. “There were a lot of really good on-the-ground things.”
Swiftwater rescue training, led by a team of instructors from Wallowa County, took place in the placid waters of the pond near Salt Creek Summit. SAR volunteers fine-tuned skills that included accurately throwing rescue ropes. A few lucky volunteers spent time in the water.
On Sunday, June 27 SAR hasty, medical, and K-9 teams coordinated by incident command and SAR members from multiple counties spread out in a mock search and rescue exercise in the Salt Creek Summit area. Civil Air Patrol brought in two aircraft – one from Boise, Idaho and another from Redmond, Ore. to aid in searching for several “lost hikers,” some of whom were “injured.” The search and rescue efforts were all successful within the three hours allotted for the exercise.
“Learning to work with and practicing with our neighboring counties for mutual aide just makes us more ready when we have a big search and we all need to work together. This way we all know each other, we’ve worked together, and I think that’s really beneficial,” Holly Akenson said.
For additional information, contact
Ellen Morris Bishop, Wallowa County SAR Public Relations
Paige Sully, Wallowa County SAR, 541-426-0535