“The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office has requested Boundary County assist them in trying to locate two missing snowmobile riders. Bonner County was notified last night at approximately 21:00 after two missing riders failed to return home on time. Bonner County initiated a search and failed to locate the vehicle or the missing riders. Bonner County advised the riders are new to the area, and recently purchased the snowmobiles from a local dealer. The local dealer suggested numerous areas which are popular among snowmobile enthusiasts ...”
This was the scenario presented to Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team on Saturday, Feb. 24, for a mock search.
Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team Vice Commander Tony Jeppesen’s alarm blared at 5:45 a.m. on his day off. Around the county, other volunteers’ alarms went off at well, and they rolled into the parking lot of the Boundary County Waterways Building, ready to go.
Even though this was just a drill, everything was handled in the same professional manner as if it were a real search.
“What we are going to do initially is break up into hasty teams and we are going to go and check these areas to see if we can locate this vehicle to get a start point for this,” Jeppesen informed his team, as Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team Commander Bart Camps watched from the back of the room to see how his team performed.
“I am trying to listen to what is going on and guide everybody, and to see if I see something that maybe we can improve on, or get them thinking about what their roles are,” Camps explained.
With the experience of more than 200 searches that he has personally managed, Camps is looking to impart his knowledge on the members of the search and dive team. He quietly watched much of scenario, until he saw a moment here or there, that required a change or a little more thought about the situation, then he came alive, actively encouraging the team members to think aloud.
Jeppesen narrowed down the possible location for the missing snowmobilers, and broke the members down into smaller teams, based on training and skill levels. The teams were deployed on a hasty search, the first step in trying to locate the vehicle matching the description of the one being driven by the missing snowmobilers.
“We are very limited today,” said Camps. “We are a volunteer organization and this is not the optimal amount of personnel that we hoped would be attending, but to do a hasty team to try and locate a vehicle, then build on a plan, we have enough to do that.”
Boundary Ambulance Captain/Paramedic Kelly Halleman, and Boundary Ambulance EMTs Matt Chupp and Jonathan Luhnow joined the mock search, taking the opportunity to test their gear, clothing, packs, medical supplies, and radios.
“They are going to try and see how they do in this environment and also working with us,” explained Camps.
One of Jeppesen’s teams located the missing vehicle near a trail up past Snow Creek, at which time they performed scene containment to protect any clues from contamination. The snowmobile team was deployed, and at 11:27 a.m., the subject was located.
As the mock search progressed throughout the day, Jeppesen watched over every little detail, from making sure that the trucks and snowmobiles were ready and filled with fluids, to appropriate gear, to the radios and repeater.
Jeppesen joined the Boundary Search and Dive team after spending most of his life belonging to a variety of volunteer organizations since high school.
“Search and rescue has many benefits to the community, but also to me personally,” said Jeppesen. “I learn a lot about different search and rescue subject matter and much of that is transferable into my recreational activities.”
His passion was evident as headed up the SAR Command, the main base of operation, instructing his teams as to how to proceed, not unlike a chess player contemplating his next move.
Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team volunteers, Brandon Neuman and Richard Cowell, were staged at the head of the trail while the snowmobile team attempted to extricate the missing person, who was located approximately 100 feet off the trail on a hill in deep snow.
Cowell had joined Search and Dive Rescue after being a part of the Border Patrol Explorers for several years.
“It’s perfect,” said Cowell. “You are outside all the time which is a ton of fun. You are not stuck behind a desk. It fit me perfectly because I got to keep that aspect of helping people.”
The call came back that they needed extra hands and equipment, and Cowell and Neuman prepared their gear as the snowmobiles began the trek back to retrieve them.
“I invest most of my time in this. It is super fun and it challenges you mentally and physically,” said Neuman. “We have done two of these in the past and it makes you look at the whole aspect in a third person point of view, mainly teach yourself and teach others how to do it more efficiently and quickly.”
At 2:30 p.m., the missing person was extricated, but the day for the Search and Dive Rescue Team was not over. They gathered, along with the Boundary Ambulance team, to discuss the experience, learning what they done well, and what areas they could improve.
“I enjoy being challenged and every time I’m doing something for SAR, whether its a mock rescue like today, specialized training, or the real deal I’m challenged,” said Jeppesen after guiding his team in the successful search. “I learn something new every time I get together with this great group of talented people. It’s great feeling to work with these folks and have the ability to complete a mission and help someone.”
For more information about joining the Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team: http://bsdrt.org