Lost and found Local volunteers assist in search and rescue

When someone you love has gone missing, the most important thing is finding him or her. A lot can go into that effort, and there are volunteer groups which offer expert assistance at little or no cost to local law enforcement and fire rescue in the tragic event that someone disappears.

Eyes in the sky

Down East Emergency Medical Institute (DEEMI) is a non-profit organization that assists police, fire and EMS in search and rescue situations. The institute has upwards of 170 volunteers across the state who have various skills, including medical doctors and licensed medical personnel who set up ground teams to assist with search and rescue as well as gathering the medical history of the person who has gone missing.

Three of the greatest tools that DEEMI has to offer are the triad of FAA-certified aircraft that can be used for search and rescue. The team can go up, and volunteers sweep over a search area taking pictures.

The images are uploaded to an FTP site that is hosted by the University of Maine; military experts in Ohio review the images.

"Because of the University of Maine, when we have a kid missing in Maine, within 45 minutes we have people in Ohio looking for him virtually," said Richard Bowie of DEEMIE.

The flight crews fly over the designated area – often it's already been narrowed down by the use of a dog team – and take hundreds and hundreds of pictures. The pictures are uploaded FTP to FTP. The photos are blown up, and then combed over by the military experts using back-lit light boards. They are able to reliably find a person or a body that is lost in the woods. Bowie explained that the team in Ohio can identify a bottle of cleaning fluid situated at the bottom a river.

Since they have more than one aircraft, and the photography is not fixed into to any one aircraft, if one is in need of repair they can easily switch to the second without losing time. The use of these aircraft comes at no cost. They operate through generous community donations, such as the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. But Bowie pointed out that they will not solicit or even accept donations from the family members of the missing person.

DEEMI has a hangar at Bangor International Airport to house the aircraft.

Ground control

But it isn't just the skies where DEEMI shines. They also organize trained ground teams with three disaster trailers for deployment. According to their Web site, they have also acquired a new command trailer that is shared with Dirigo/MASAR teams.

They have a small fleet of 4 wheel drive trucks, and have teams on ATVs and snowmobiles to complement the standard ground teams.

Recently, brothers from the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon formalized a ground team volunteer agreement whenever there is an emergency in the area.

"When someone is in need and you have the opportunity to help, I feel anyone would do the right thing and help search," said Blake Jordan, a fourth-year accounting student and SAE brother. He considers this to be another way that the fraternity can be an asset to the surrounding community.

And it's this community spirit that allows DEEMI to search widely and effectively.

For more information about DEEMI, visit www.deemi.org.

On the scent with VK9

Julie Jones has been involved with search and rescue using scent-specific K9s since 1994.

Most recently, she has assisted with several cases in the area, including helping police find the body of Collin Bates in Orono and locating the weapon that was flashed in the Dunkin Donuts robbery – it turned out to be a pellet gun designed to look like handgun.

Her K9, Quincy, is a yellow lab that replaced her bloodhound. Jones found that Quincy picked up the training extremely quickly. VK9 is a 501 3C non-profit.

"I started out with air scents when he was really young," said Jones. "Everything I've done with him, it's like he's done it before."

In addition to being able to follow scents through the air, Quincy can locate items that may have been thrown or dropped, such as cell phones and keys.

Jones and other VK9s can track aged trails, meaning that even if weeks have passed, they can establish a verifiable trail.

Jones has hundreds of cases that she's assisted on across the country where she's helped agencies locate murderers, find bodies and establish tracks where someone may have wandered off.

When working with law enforcement, Jones explained that detectives won't tell her where a victim or suspect has gone. She's given a scent article and Quincy establishes a track. Often it isn't until well after the fact that Quincy's track is verified by law enforcement. This double blind method ensures that the police don't give Jones clues on where they think she should look – that keeps the evidence Quincy provides pure.

"What sets him apart is his ability to do aged and contaminated work," said Jones.

She explained that contaminated work is trying to track a single scent in an area where there is more than one target. Imagine each person living in your house has a color (Red for you, blue for your spouse, yellow for your child). If Quincy is given a blue scent article, it doesn't matter how often the red and blue tracks stepped over it; he'll still be able to focus exclusively on the blue track without getting confused.

He has an established ability of being able to track a subject even in busy places like a convenience store or a public library.

VK9 teams work well with law enforcement, maintaining training and search logs as well as filling out after-action reports with maps and tracking.

Jones has an intense desire to use Quincy's skills to help people as much as possible.

"I'm the one that's blessed. I'm the one that's lucky," she said. "And I need to go out and help people."

For more information about VK9, visit www.vk9sar.org.

Looking to the future of looking for the lost

Due to the grim nature of the business, oftentimes the outcome of these searches can be tragic, as was the case with Collin Bates. But officers who worked with the VK9 and DEEMI want the community to know about the tools that are available in the area.

Sgt. Scott Wilcox was impressed by the promptness of DEEMI's response and the incredible actions of Jones and Quincy during the search.

"I think anyone who doesn't use these tools is foolish," said Sgt. Scott Wilcox. He explained how incredible Quicy's tracking was, and how helpful it was to have a ground team organized.

Since the sad outcome of the Bates case, Wilcox has been working with DEEMI and VK9 to create an action plan should they ever need to use their resources again.

DEEMI and VK9 allow agencies local and national to find people who are lost, and though it won't always be a happy ending, it can mean closure for a family who has been searching.

No comments: