Residents of Marine might have noticed a lot of flashing lights and the fluorescent orange shirts of a search and rescue canine unit scouring the streets July 12.
But rest assured, it was just a drill — a very realistic drill.
Marine Police Chief Chris Singleton was contacted by SAR K9 Co-op Inc. and was asked if the non-profit could use the area for a training exercise. The group provides search and rescue services to 35 counties in southern and central Illinois. The organization specializes in training search and rescue dogs for certification. The team also participates in searches for lost and missing people. Singleton seized to opportunity to provide a training course for the whole community.
“I think it is going to bring everyone together, let them know the resources we have in the community,” Singleton said. “Hopefully we will learn what to do and not do around these types of dogs as well.”
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So on July 13, volunteers of the Marine fire and police departments gathered at the fire station to undergo a round of SAR training. The night started with two dog demonstrations. First, Keck and Rock, searched the whole fire station for a “missing girl” (a member of the SAR team who waited patiently in a hidden compartment for her canine companions to come find her). When the dogs found what they were looking for, they were rewarded with a getting to play a special round of catch.
Next up was Bogie, a German shepherd. One of the SAR team members laid down a scent trail through the baseball field behind the fire department. Little did she know, a few minutes later a horseshoe tournament would start in the same spot. This could have proven to be quite a challenge for the dog, because it had not been certified and its largest fault was getting distracted. But it did not phase Bogie one bit.
Once the dog caught wind of the trail, he was off, leading the SAR team members at a trot. He found his missing teammate in just a few minutes.
“The dogs are awesome,” said volunteer firefighter Lowell Mills.
The night ended with a mock search.
Ron Edwards, president of SAR, said that the group always tries to keep their training sessions as realistic as possible.
“Whenever you come into a community, there are several things that have to be ironed out, communications, protocols and stuff,” Edwards said. “So that is what we are here today is ironing some of those out.”
The volunteers set up a real incident command station, where they could track the searchers who were in the field. Dogs were brought out and posts were set around the search perimeter so the target would not leave the search boundary. Police and fire vehicles followed the line of searches as they searched for clues left by the missing person.
“An average person leaves 3,000 clues per mile,” said SAR volunteer Gary Dolton.
The training process might have looked a little extravagant to the average passerby. But Marine Fire Chief Keith Alldredge said that training is essential, especially at the hottest times in the year when it is easy for people to become lost.
“It is just training that everyone needs to be involved in,” Alldredge said.
While the night held a lot of walking for the volunteers, Alldredge said the overall experience was a great way to instill faith in the community about services available.
“We appreciate all of the help that the team is doing and the group coming out for hard work in this heat,” Alldredge said.