News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 17, 2013

Search and Rescue continues its ‘never-ending’ training

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Few things match the trauma of having a loved one who has disappeared.

Fortunately, in central Indiana, a team of dedicated and highly trained volunteers are standing by to help, 365 days a year.

Vigo County Search and Rescue, a team of K-9 handlers and ground search personnel, are continuing their “never-ending” training this weekend.

On Saturday, members of the team, who often work as emergency responders in their professional lives, spent the day in the Seelyville fire station getting additional training on topographical map reading, GPS and other skills that will help them — and their dogs — locate missing persons.

“In a lot of these [missing persons cases], time is of the essence,” said Dr. Dorene Hojnicki, director of the Vigo County EMA, which hosted the weekend training. The volunteers are ready to help 24-hours a day, she said.

The volunteers come from a wide range of area emergency response organizations, such as the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, local fire units, the Department of Natural Resources, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service and more, Hojnicki said.

“We all have other full-time jobs,” said Robin Stanifer, deputy director of the group.

Members of the search team may spend up to 70 hours a month in training, especially those with their own search dogs. They were called into action more than two dozen times last year, including the November search of property on the Clay/Vigo county line where a homicide victim’s body was discovered. Often, however, they use their skills to find missing children or adults.

“If you only have one ‘find’ in that dog’s career … it’s worth it,” said Kenna Duguay, who has been a part of VCSAR for the past several years. All the training and work pays off when you actually get to reunite families with a missing person or even help bring “closure” to the family of someone who has gone missing and died, she said.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Duguay said. “It’s really about helping people.”

VCSAR, which responds to missing persons cases all across Indiana and even in other states, is continuing its training today. The team members are working toward a certification from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, but they are never really ever finished learning new things, said training instructors Lee French and Ted Lohr.

“It’s never ending training,” said French, the lead instructor.

Training for the IDHS certification is about a two-year process. Some of the training takes place at Camp Atterbury, an Indiana National Guard facility in southern Indiana, Hojnicki noted.

Being apart of VCSAR can be costly to its members. It means paying for a extra oil changes, an extra set of tires and lots of gas, Stanifer said. But the volunteers don’t mind. In fact, they seem to love the work.

“These are truly, truly dedicated people,” Hojnicki said. “We are truly blessed. We have a great group of volunteers out here.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.