Search and rescue volunteers train for the real thing

“The mission is always to find the victims as soon as possible, in the best possible conditions”

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A group of volunteers dressed in orange were scouring the bush near Gravel Drive on Thursday, looking for a seven-month-old child. They looked like a group of autumnal hunters, but with their GPS communicators and serious faces, there was a solemn air to this gathering.

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Just up the road, several police were crowding around a command post that had been established across from the Valley landfill.

Fortunately, this was not a real situation; it was a training scenario organized by the Greater Sudbury Police Service and North Shore Search and Rescue, a voluntary non-profit organization that assists in non-criminal searches. The child in question was actually a mannequin.

“We do our annual research training refresher. Today’s scenario is of a father who took his seven-month-old daughter from his ex-spouse’s residence,” said Const. Kevin Tremblay from the police department explained. “His intention was to go to his parents in Hanmer, but he never succeeded. Later that evening there were reports the father had been in a collision but left the scene before police responded.

In the training scenario, the vehicle was located along the landfill road. It was empty, but there were children’s things inside. At that point, the search and rescue team “was activated,” Tremblay said, and the command post — essentially an office space on wheels — was established.

Thursday’s practice was full. The police went through every step of the process, right down to setting up the mapping and database computers.

“The mission is always to find the victims as soon as possible, in the best possible conditions,” said Tremblay. “Some of them (the researchers) are on foot, some of them are side by side.”

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Tremblay said 26 members attended Thursday’s training session — including 21 officers — from various departments within the police department (that way, it avoids abusing a single department of its personnel). An individual also played the role of the desperate father.

“We don’t always work together, so it’s important to have this type of annual training, to bring everyone together to build team cohesion,” said Tremblay. “We go through different tactics and strategies that have been used in the past. Learn from your mistakes, then everyone gains the same experience, so everyone can contribute and share, learn and move forward. We want to improve.

During a real search and rescue incident, Tremblay said police often respond to missing children, especially children with autism; elderly people with dementia; and suicidal people; as well as “missing hikers, lost blueberry pickers, stranded snowmobilers.”

Therefore, all members involved in search and rescue incidents receive crisis response training. Sometimes a psychologist is present at the command post.

“That’s another reason we’re doing these scenarios — (to figure out) what kind of response we’re going to give to that (depressed) person,” Tremblay commented. “People need different answers. Sometimes they actively elude us – they don’t want to be found. Sometimes we have to find people because they might hurt themselves.

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Had this been a real situation, Tremblay said officers would have requested assistance from the K9 unit, as well as the OPP helicopter and divers, if needed.

During Thursday’s training session, the child was found dead. Around noon, Dad was still missing.

Tremblay said the script was based on a real incident that happened last year in Quebec.

“It changed the type of response, because now it’s a potential homicide,” Tremblay explained. “This aspect has been added to the research script. Now we are actively looking for the despondent father, who may have committed homicide. »

In this situation, Tremblay said search and rescue on the north shore would be disabled. The police department often works with the volunteer group, which had seven members on site Thursday.

“We go out with the police; the police activate us and we go looking for them,” said Jeb Brown, who has volunteered with North Shore Search and Rescue for 12 years.

North Shore Search and Rescue participated in 14 searches in 2021.

Brown said volunteering with the organization is a great way to cultivate skills and spend time outdoors. But it requires commitment and an understanding that conditions can be difficult. The organization is active 24/7 and volunteers can be called in to help with a search in all weathers.

Brown said that in addition to the annual search and rescue training scenario with the police department, volunteers are expected to attend two training sessions per month.

“They want to do more in the bush and they have a real interest in helping people,” he said of the motivations expressed by many volunteers. “They may have some bush experience. And they want to learn skills – search skills, outdoor skills, survival skills, first aid skills. Things like that.”

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Brandon D. James