Sharp County Search and Rescue Team gets FEMA-certified training

Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Members of the SCSAR team who underwent ASARA training and earned national FEMA certification at the University of Arkansas in Russellville in June are pictured front row (left to right): K9 handler Dave Gruger, SCSAR K9 Radar, EMT Jeff Tatum, Patty McCord, Director David Woods; back row (left to right): Heath Leonard, Matthew Appleby, Chaplain Donnie Clayton, Jr., K9 spotter Hunter Gruger.

In case you are not an avid reader and do not make it to the end of this article, at least read this take-home message: David Woods heads the Sharp County Search and Rescue Team (SCSAR), a strictly volunteer group that has been performing search and rescues locally for years. Recently, they went through official training with the Arkansas Search and Rescue Association (ASARA) to become nationally certified, and are offering their services, free of charge, 24/7, primarily in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. Woods provides his cell phone number (870-329-3459) and encourages anyone to contact him at any time, day or night, should they have a concern about the whereabouts of a loved one or friend. He has a complete team of specialists who work with him, as well as a large number of volunteers who assist. This is at absolutely no charge to anyone.

Heaven forbid you should ever lose track of a loved one in need, whether a child or an elderly parent, or perhaps someone who may be lacking mental capacity, temporarily or otherwise. What’s the first thing you do after running out in the yard frantically screaming for them or calling their best friend? Right in your own neighborhood is a team of exceedingly willing and highly trained individuals who are well-equipped and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The Sharp County Search and Rescue Team…let’s just call them SAR for now because the Sharp County part is misleading...is at your service. They do not just limit their assistance to Sharp County residents. They are more than happy to help with searches all over northern Arkansas, southern Missouri and they are certified to perform searches, rescues and recoveries nationwide.

All of the members of Woods’ team went through a Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) certification program offered in June through the University of Arkansas in Russellville by ASARA. The cost for the classes and certification was going to be paid out-of-pocket by each team member; however, an anonymous donor stepped up and paid for all of the training for the entire team.

Individuals of the SAR team each has his or her own specialty on which they focus, such as ground searching, emergency medical services, canine tracking, among others. At the ASARA conference, there were about 60 or more attendees overall, and various levels of training were offered, both to novice and experts of search and rescue. The national SAR certification has different levels of technician training (SARTECH I-IV), and the training program involved classroom as well as field testing. The trainers at the conference were either from FEMA or ASARA itself. Wood’s team received FEMA certification to SARTECH III level, with further specialized training in their individual fields of expertise. Later they shared their own specialized training experiences with the other team members.

After this training experience, Woods’ team members are on the national call-out list. The greater the level of SARTECH training, the higher on the call-out list an individual is placed. Wood’s described his own team’s expertise. “Our specialty is mother nature events, lost persons, tornado touch-downs, floods, that kind of stuff. That’s our specialty. We are all trained now, after we went to Russellville, to do urban, rural and combinations.” The trainers from the conference, including the ASARA director, still provide advice and assistance with current SAR efforts by Woods’ team.

One of the specialty areas in which Woods was trained is “lost person’s behavior.” This area delves into the mind state and psychology of the person being sought, and what a person of a specific age or with a particular mental problem might do when they become lost. For instance, if a person has autism, “This is what they typically do when they get lost.” Woods continued, “Say there’s a body of water over here, autistic persons are very prone to go to water…be sure to check that body of water real good.” He also learned some people with dementia, “have a tendency, when they come out that front door, whichever direction that front door is pointed, they walk a straight line…and they will continue to walk until they’re hung up on something,” Woods shared.

In his initial response when Woods first gets a call for a lost person, his 10 team members start with a “hasty” search in the obvious places inside and outside the house where the person may be hiding or had a debilitating medical problem. Woods continued, “If that turns up negative, then we put the dog out. Everybody waits until the dog either is successful or the handler comes out and says ‘we can’t find track.’” If the person has not been found after these efforts, then the team starts a grid search, which is a step-by-step search with a line of team members who painstakingly cover the immediate area and gradually expand outward in a grid-like pattern.

Woods now has a drone, donated by Chris Van Dyke, that he can employ when needed and it covers up to two and a half miles at a time. He finds it is very helpful at any point during the outdoor search progress and can save ground time, whether through the woods or along the riverbanks, and give exact coordinates where someone or something is located.

The SCSAR team offers an SAR training program for youths to learn basic survival and rescue skills, such as CPR training and certification. Woods specified, “We’re going to teach them proper techniques for search and rescue, how to survive in the wilderness should they become lost. We’re going to teach them how to be better citizens for the community, how to step up and volunteer their time, how to be respectful to their parents and other adults. They must maintain a C average in school or they’re out of the program.”

Woods’ SAR team currently has eight men and two women on it. He has interest from others who want to join, but he limits the size of his team. “We keep our squad down to 10 because you don’t want too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” he explains. “I can make a phone call and get 100 Indians, but I only need about 10 people to guide those 100 Indians on ‘here is what we’re doing.’” All of the SCSAR team members are also part of the SkyWarn team that Woods directs. They all are certified with the National Weather Service and storm spotters. “I’ve got to have versatile people because the number of people is so slim,” says Woods.

David Woods insists that the message gets out to everyone, his search and rescue services are completely free, no costs whatsoever. He genuinely means it when he says call anytime, 870-329-3459, if you have any concern about someone in your life who may be missing. After talking with Woods, one thing is definitely clear, Sharp County is very blessed to have such a volunteer citizen with his generous heart and expertise and his highly trained team of volunteers.

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