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Rescue team opens house to community

POLSON – Lake County Search and Rescue tied a line of rope to a truck, anchored it to a steel beam from the ceiling, and hooked the end of the rope to a man weighing 170 pounds.

The man dangled on a long yellow stretcher, known as a litter, for hours, but not to worry, he was only a dummy. The search and rescue team set up the equipment during their open house on Saturday in the new LCSR storage facility on Main Street so people could see what a real rescue might look like.

Not too long ago, Lake County Dispatch called the team in on one of many real rescues they work on each year. Two older kids were stuck on a cliff face at McDonald Lake.

“It was dark and they were walking out,” Lake County Search and Rescue President Jared Bell said.

The boys, for some reason, decided to stop walking and sit down.

“It was lucky they did because they’d worked their way out onto a cliff, “ he said.

“If they hadn’t stopped and called 911 …”

The kids were hooked to a rescue harness and propelled down the cliff similar to the way the ropes were set up in the department’s new storage facility.

During the open house, several specialized rescue teams set up equipment from boats to ropes. Members of the horse posse sat near a few saddles they use in the field for the public to see. Horses can cover a lot of ground during a search where off road vehicles or helicopters can’t go.

LCSR Volunteer Cindy Mullings brought her Miniature Australian Shepard, Elsie, to the event. Elsie is small in size but she has fierce tracking skills. She can follow a scent for miles and be spot on, and she likes a good scratch behind the ear from anyone willing, so she is good with the public.

“She is the only search and rescue dog in Lake County,” Mullings said.

The human trackers also set up a station at the event. A couple blue cards were on the table with an outline of a shoe drawn on the front. Trackers use the cards to record details they find while looking for a missing person like shoe patterns, dimensions, and location.

Volunteer tracker Frankie Brown has 10 years of experience in the field. He said a lost person has the potential to travel about 40 miles within a 20-hour time span. Considering the person could go in any direction, the search area can end up being quite large. Trackers look for small clues within a specific perimeter.

“We start at the point the person was last seen,” Brown said. “We look for footprints, sometimes a partial print.”

The volunteer team meets weekly and spends hours training until they are able to notice the smallest details.

“Imagine being able to see 99 percent of what people don't notice," he said.

The skills came in handy when the team was tracking a lost child recently. Brown said people have an idea of what a child looks like in their minds and they look for that image, but in nature the person gets wet, cold and often curls up, so that image changes, and they can’t find them. Trackers are trained to look for those differences, which is how they found the child.

People get lost for a number of reasons but the majority of rescues are children, hunters and hikers, and people with mental impairments. The LCSR team spent a total of 238 hours on different search missions in the past year with 683 hours of training. Those hours include looking for missing people, ice training, building clean up, First Aid training, rope training, bear spray safety and a host of other activities.

Lake County Sheriff Don Bell oversees the LCSR team. He said tax dollars pay for the equipment through a mill levy but volunteers run the program, which is common in the United States.

“Getting the families back together is payment enough,” Brown said. He added that he enjoys using his skills to discover each step a person has taken until they are rescued.

Apprentice tracker Stacy Violett is working on learning his skills. He said he has caught what is known as the “tracking bug.” He explained that using the skills to find someone is a bit addicting and helping people is rewarding.

LCSR opened their new facility for the public on Saturday so people can see how taxpayer’s dollars are being utilized.

“We use the mill levy to pay for trucks, gas, the building, but no one gets paid here,” Brown said. “We volunteer to help people and serve the community.”

The volunteers put in many hours cutting in new doors for the trucks to get out quickly in an emergency, but they are at a bit of a standstill on the remodel project due to a need for more funding. The project is short about $12,000.

“We want to add a lounge area,” Brown said. The lounge would be in a section of the storage facility with a kitchen and meeting space for the volunteers to gather and discuss things like procedures or even dry off after a rescue.

The team is accepting donations to help finish their project. They will be wrapping Christmas presents in December at Murdoch’s to raise money. Donations can be sent to the courthouse with attention to the search and rescue team, or made through the sheriff’s department, and people can contact Brown directly at 406-261-4886.

“We also have applications for volunteers,” he said.

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