A meeting was held at the Bartow-Frank-Durbin Firehouse in Green Bank November 12 to discuss the reformation of Pocahontas County’s Search and Rescue team.
The original team’s president, Mike Cassell, moderated the meeting and worked with Pocahontas County Homeland Security and Emergency Management and E-911 director Michael O’Brien to recruit members.
“Mike talked to me about restarting it,” Cassell said. “I thought, ‘no I don’t really want to do this.’ I run with BFD all the time. Then I got to thinking about it and told Mike we’d try to restart it.”
Cassell said the SAR team started 28 years ago, and he was in charge for 16 of those years. After he quit, Doug Friel and Sandy Weik kept the organization going, but it slowly fizzled out.
The evening of the meeting, Cassell said he was surprised to have 25 people in attendance and many of those said they had friends interested in joining who couldn’t attend that night.
“It really surprised me,” he said. “I was expecting maybe seven or eight and I got twenty-five to show up.”
At this point, Cassell said it will take time to get things up and running – getting paperwork in order and bylaws written – but once that is all cleared away, the team will be ready to start training and assisting with search and rescue in Pocahontas and surrounding counties.
“We’re going to bring in a lot of training,” he said. “A few of the people have training because they’ve done this before. Some of the training is what you’re going to have for EMS and fire. You’ve got to have CPR, first aid, then after that it’s going to be land navigation and a lot of training on how to use GPS and things to that effect.”
Cassell added that those interested in joining the team don’t have to have any certifications or training beforehand – the team will organize all the training needed.
With his experience, Cassell has contacts in Virginia that have already shown interest in helping with training, as well as including the Pocahontas team once it is up and running.
“We’ll go wherever we need to go to help somebody,” he said. “We had a meeting the other day and talked to a guy from over in Virginia where they had the last search. He asked me ‘will you come over and help us? As far as we’re concerned and you’re concerned, the way you talk, there’s no state lines.’ I agreed. When it comes to this, there are no state lines.
“I said, ‘yeah, I’ll come help you with my team,’” he continued. “I said, ‘how many do you have?’ He said, ‘I’ve got zero.’ He didn’t have anybody. I said we’ll come over and help you try to train some people if you’ve got any.”
The training will include navigating in the woods and along river banks, as well as cave rescue, which for some, is not an option.
“When it comes to cave rescue, it’s a little different,” Cassell said. “They do not like getting into that. I’ve got people that are very good standing out there, taking names, but you can’t take a dozen and drag them in that hole. They aren’t going underground if they don’t have to. I understand that.
“I’ve never had fear of anything like that,” he continued. “I’ve spent a lot of time getting people out of Cass Cave and situations like that.”
As a member of the BFD, Cassell has been on many calls through the years and said it is important to have a volunteer SAR that has members other than emergency personnel in case there is a call that they have to take.
“I try to pick and choose who I get because I don’t want to take them all out of fire and EMS,” he said. “That’s why we started this before because what we had was all the fire and EMS in the woods. We had nobody to cover calls. If there was an ambulance call, we would have to get all the ambulance people out of the field and get them to the ambulance in order to make the run.”
Cassell said he hopes to draw people from all over the county, especially those who have a deep knowledge of the forest land.
“There’s going to come a time when I’m going to call out to the public for bear hunters and loggers, because they know the woods,” he said.
It takes a special kind of person to join a search and rescue team, Cassell said, and he has people who are made for specific parts of the search. There are some who are unable to do a lot of walking on uneven terrain, but they are perfect for monitoring the list of people who are in the field. There is also a need for people who are willing to direct traffic and organize meals for searches that take more than one day.
“That’s what we need, good, dedicated people,” he said. “You can use a lot of different people in this. There are a lot of things they can do. They don’t necessarily have to be ground pounders.”
Cassell said he plans to have another meeting sometime in December and when he has the date, he will post it online and in The Pocahontas Times for those interested in attending.