By Mickey Gorman
After two search and rescue emergencies in the past two months, Rockbridge County Emergency Management Coordinator Robert Foresman said the county needs a formally trained response team.
“These two incidents show us that we need to do more training at the local level,” Foresman said.
Foresman plans to assemble a team of about 25 volunteers to undergo a program called “Search and Rescue for the First Responder” within two months. The volunteers will complete the sequential program by June to become “field team members.”
James Dick, director of campus recreation at Washington and Lee University, said he supports a specialized rescue team.
“The search [in any] rescue is really difficult,” Dick said. The team must be specially trained to move quickly and strategically while searching the wilderness.
On Saturday, Jan. 12, Foresman and a makeshift team of about 50 volunteer firefighters and paramedics fanned out to search the James River Face Wilderness Area for 26-year-old Chad Jarrett.
Jarrett went missing while hiking Devil’s Marbleyard with four fellow Liberty University students. He separated from the group to find an easier trail to the summit but fell 40 feet and into a hole.
Jarrett’s rescue took nearly six hours, in addition to the time it took to find him, Foresman said.
The rescue team rigged ropes and lowered a rescue basket into the hole for Jarrett. Six team members hoisted him out of the hole.
The rescue team emerged from the trail with Jarrett shortly before midnight, when he was delivered to an ambulance and taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. He was released the next morning with only internal bruises.
Jarrett could not be reached for comment.
Jarrett’s fall is the second time in two months that Foresman’s rescue team has been called to action in usually hiker-friendly areas. Last month a hunter was knocked off a rock because of his gun’s recoil.
The need for a formal rescue team seems necessary now more than ever, Foresman said.
“Now people are charged money [for a hunting license] to walk through game reserves, so that forces [them] up into the national forest…the wilderness area,” Foresman said. “That’s why I expect to see much more of [these emergencies].”
During field team member training, volunteers will learn speedy search strategies.
Once the weather gets warmer both Foresman and Dick expect more people to hike– and an increased necessity for a well trained search and rescue team.
Dick said to prevent emergency situations a hiker should never separate from the group. He recommended telling a friend about the destination of the hike and an expected time of return.
“Don’t underestimate the power of Mother Nature,” Dick said.