By Ashley Keegan
That others may live
Its not only the motto, but also the guiding purpose of Cherokee Countys Search and Rescue team (Cherokee SAR). Volunteers are the lifeblood of this operation, but its not a typical volunteer organization.
This team requires dedication, discipline, and a desire to serve the community in a significant way. After all, its Cherokee SAR that is called to assist when citizens from Cherokee County, and sometimes citizens of surrounding counties, are missing, lost, or hurt. These volunteers understand that while SAR may not be their full-time job, it is a tremendous responsibility that potentially has life or death consequences.
The team, consisting of over 20 volunteers, is overseen by Cherokee County Fires Special Operations Chief Darrell Mitchell. Affectionately known as Chief, Mitchell has worked in fire service for four decades. He manages the hazardous materials team, the dive team, and the search and rescue team.
Team Leader Ken Logan guides Cherokee SAR. Assistant Team Leader Trent Manning and Squad Leader and Training Coordinator Patti Pratt assist Logan. The team is divided into two squads, each led by squad leaders and assistant squad leaders. In addition, the team includes designated dog handlers because Cherokee SAR is supported by both local humans and canines. Other professional skills and disciplines represented on the team include EMTs, sign trackers, firefighters, and more.
Assistant Squad Leader Anthony Roman has been on the team for three years and was recently promoted to this leadership position. Roman believes success on the team is achieved through spirit, willingness, selflessness, and the desire to help. In addition to the required physical nature of the job, Roman said that overall success demands both physical and mental abilities, which is why training exercises focus on flexing both brains and brawn.
Training occurs on a regular basis and is designed to be immersive and thorough. The curriculum is structured around National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) standards. To qualify to be on the team, each team member must be able to pass the annual Wildland Firefighter Pack Test, which requires walking 2 miles in under 30 minutes while wearing a pack that weighs at least 25 pounds.
The team trains to be ready for all possible scenarios that may be encountered on a real-life search. The team never knows when it will be called upon, so preparedness is key. Each month, team members dedicate at least one Monday evening and one full Saturday to building and maintaining skills required for a successful search. Monday evening training takes place inside a classroom with instruction typically designed to complement Saturday field trainings.
When the team trains in the field, the primary focus is building and expanding knowledge of land navigation, first aid, technical skills, and more. Real-life searches take place in the outdoors and in urban settings, both of which bring their own set of uncertainties: the possibility of extreme weather, unknown terrain, and obstacles.
On a recent team field training, squads conducted a mock search scenario at Garland Mountain. As a volunteer subject waited to be rescued, squads deployed and took the opportunity to use the skills theyve learned in land navigation and map reading to search the area and locate the subject.
This type of exercise is not just about utilizing tangible skills; it also adds to team members expertise for the intangible as well. According to Roman, one of the most important aspects of search and rescue is teamwork and not letting ones ego get in the way. Learning to work as a team provides lessons that extend beyond work in search and rescue.
I think at any level, everybodys involved in a team. And so, when you learn to put team before self and in our situation, you have to do that you have to be very cognizant of your own capabilities and limitations, as well as others, said Roman. You can take those concepts and extrapolate them into your personal and professional life.
Training prepares the team for callouts. Dispatched by Cherokee 9-1-1, team members could get called at any time, day or night. When a call comes, team members will encounter a variety of circumstances. It could be the coldest night or the warmest day, and the subject could range from a child who wandered a little too far from home while playing outside to an adult who sustained an injury while running. Training and organization ensure that the team will be prepared for whatever comes its way.
If you are interested in learning how to become involved with search and rescue, please visit CherokeeSAR.org for more information.