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Four-Day Search and Rescue Training Held

By Staff | Jul 29, 2015

Photos by Ed Parsons Tyler County O.E.M. Director Tom Cooper and Jamie Bielinski, Meteorologist In Charge at the National Weather Service in Charleston take a break.

Volunteers from the Tyler County Office of Emergency Management and at least 12 dogs and their owners participated in search and rescue training exercises that would help find drowning victims on the river.

More than 40 people participated in the four day event with professional trainers from Pearl River, LA., provided the training. Lisa Higgins and her 15-year-old granddaughter, Hale, are certified training instructors for FEMA. They used their expertise to teach the dogs how to pick up scents when searching for victims in the water.

Handlers from Hancock, Marshall, Wirt, Wood and Tyler counties were present. Tom Cooper, Director of the Tyler County Office of Emergency Management was in charge of the event and had help from John Paul Jones, O.E.M. director from Hancock County.

Most all of the dog handlers are also members of the Tyler County search and rescue team and have been involved in other training exercises sponsored by Cooper’s office. Each day the group received individual hands on training that put great emphasis on how to be in control with their dog and still reward them when they are effective in picking up scents. Each handler said they learned something each day and felt their dogs became better with each day’s training.

A big part of the training was putting the scent materials on the boats and leading the dogs to pick up the scent. Once they got use to the scent they then were able to go on the water and lead the rescue effort. Once the trainers were out on the water they used a scent generator to blow bubbles which carried the scent to areas to be searched. Scent materials can be made up of many different things, some are taken from medical labs and others come packaged and can be purchased. Talking with the trainers it was learned that some of the strongest scent materials come from hospitals and include many different body parts, including ground up teeth and blood and gauze from dental offices.

K-9 Gracie picks up a scent

Also on hand for the event was Jamie Bielinski, Meteorologist in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service, based in Charleston, W.Va. The Charleston office works hand in hand with Cooper and the Tyler County O.E.M. She had high praise for Cooper’s office, stating Tyler County is one of the most active counties in her region. She said not only do they stay up to date on all the new technology they also pass it on to neighboring counties. Bielinski said there are 20 employees in the Charleston office which include five senior meteorologists, five general forecasters, five former military specialists trained in weather forecasting and also hazmat personnel and a hydrologist.

“We came down here this week to see what we can do to better our communications with Tyler County. We know they are limited in their local T.V. coverage but we want to try and expand their access to radio,” she said.

“Tyler County is fortunate to have the type of working relationship with the national weather service where someone with Jamie’s expertise will come to these type events and use her knowledge to help keep us safe. The trainers from Louisiana have worked actual disasters throughout the U.S. and even around the world. I believe our members have benefited greatly from this four day exercise, I cannot say enough about our volunteers, they are always willing and ready to better themselves in their training,” Cooper said.

Cooper stated Tyler County residents are fortunate to have the full support of the County Commission who never hesitate to sign the grants that help to keep Tyler County safe. He said this particular training session was able to be held with the help of a $4,400 grant from the WV Department of Homeland Security. Through that grant we were able to bring in the trainers, house them and provide the entire group with drinks and lunch.

Several highlights of the event included the various people who showed a genuine interest in helping when disaster strikes or when there is weather related issues which may cause threat to life and property. Cooper said it takes special people to volunteer their time to help others when disaster strikes. He said Don Collins a long-time volunteer worked nearly all week on the river operating the O.E.M. search and rescue boat, he said Don knows the business and is invaluable to the O.E.M. office.

Front row, from left, trainer and handler Hayley Carney, handler, Wanda L. Yeater, from Wood County, handler Lisa Altman, from Grafton, W.Va.; back row, trainer and handler Lisa Higgins, from Pearl River, La., and Pam Bennett, K-9 business owner and handler, from Grafton, W.Va.

Also Dave Hachatorn owner of Black Dog Outfitters, a guide service based in St. Mary’s, W.Va, provided a training boat and had his Air Boat on scene. Hachatorn has been involved in search and rescue operations for many years and is one of a handful of the areas original members.

Cooper said future events are being planned and new members are always welcome. He said the Local Emergency Planning Committee meets the first Thursday of each month at 9 a.m. He said we are there to serve the public whether it is providing shelter, food or water, when disaster strikes we will do whatever we can to help people get back to normal. “This past winter with the heavy snow and cold weather, much of the county was without power, we set up a shelter and provided food and drinks, we are always training and preparing for something big. While we hope that never happens, we want to ready,” said Cooper.

The O.E.M. office is located at the senior center in Middlebourne, W.Va.

Tyler County O.E.M. member and volunteer Don Collins operates the O.E.M. search and rescue boat.