Training for search and rescue a year-round job

Courtesy photo

AL CORNELL demonstrating fire building technique.

Al Cornell, a widely respected specialist in primitive and modern outdoor survival techniques, shared his knowledge with his fellow members of Verde Search and Rescue and their families on a recent training weekend.

Several types of shelters were on display, and Cornell taught the volunteers how to tie knots to build their shelters and to start fires using all the items listed above.

"A shelter to block wind or rain must be designed to enhance your heat source," Cornell said. "You need a heat source, even if it’s just a candle under a properly set up Army issue poncho. The candle can raise the temperature under the poncho by 14 degrees. A proper wind shield for an emergency shelter using a tarp with silver on the inside with a heat source can raise the temperature by 19 degrees."

A large green trash bag with a pull-tie end can be stuffed with 3-4 inches (when compressed) of leaves, pine needles or juniper greenery, acting as ground protection.

For those who go into the forest unprepared, Cornell had a final item on display — a body bag. At that point in a Search and Rescue operation, "the subject" turns into "the victim." He stressed that in addition to being prepared to save their own lives, the Verde Search and Rescue volunteers are committed to saving their subjects lives too, by bringing along extra food, water and clothing.

"Proper clothing, shelter and fire are the three lines of defense or protection from nature’s elements during the winter months. They are much more important than water or food, as a person can die within three hours from hypothermia," Cornell said.

All volunteers should carry a knife that does not close, cordage, a tarp, ground stakes, leaf bags, and three small containers (old film containers work) holding waterproof matches in a match safe, petroleum coated cotton balls (cotton, not synthetic) and steel wool for starting a fire.

"A common mistake in winter is to make your shelter too large," Cornell said. "The shallower the width of the shelter, the more heat efficient it will be in the winter."

He then taught the group the two most helpful wilderness knots, the bowline and the sheet bend. These knots and cordage, with six pre-made, lightweight stakes, will allow a silver-lined tarp to be tied to trees and set up in less than half an hour.

Emergency site selection should be near firewood, trees for upright support, boulders that might block wind and a flat piece of higher ground to shed water. Avoid anthills, tall trees or rocks that might draw lightening, overhanging dead branches, low ground that might catch water or floods.

"Start your fire earlier rather than later, since the onset of hypothermia can interfere with your finger agility, and collect much more wood than you think you will need for the night," Cornell said. Do not gather the wood right next to your site, since it should be used as a last source for fuel if you are injured or debilitated.

Waterproof "Strike Anywhere" matches should be waterproofed a second time with "Skin Shield," a medical superglue for closing cuts. Carry a striking surface like sandpaper with you, since natural striking surfaces like rocks won’t work when wet. Enclose these protected matches in a match safe designed to keep the matches dry. They will still deteriorate over the years so replace as needed.

If you carry a lighter, use a transparent one to see the fluid level. Keep one fire starting method in your pocket, separate from your pack. Add a small sheet of aluminum foil for placing on wet ground on which to start a fire quickly.

For the afternoon demonstration, Mike Vitek and Michael Campbell did a GPS — Global Positional System training session. A GPS can help locate your position on a map. At night, Vitek and Campbell taught a night GPS session, since map plotting is very difficult in the dark. The next morning, Cornell taught a Heading and Distance Compass class over a course he had set up before everyone else arrived for the weekend.

The Yavapai Sheriff’s Backcountry Search and Rescue sent a volunteer to set up an evidence discovering exercise of forty items that subjects might leave in the forest. The volunteers peered through binoculars to spot bottle caps, empty food bags, bullets, fruit, a mirror, sunglasses, etc., which might lead to finding the missing person.

Horses, search dogs and children roamed the area near Apache Maid in the Coconino National Forest as the Verde Search and Rescue volunteers — all dressed in bright orange, came together from all walks of life. Most of the volunteers work fulltime and a few are retired. Their backgrounds are diverse: an investment representative, truck drivers, former policemen, a retired pilot, a massage therapist, a hairdresser, an insurance salesman, retired military, a CEO of Goodwill, homemakers, an Environmental Tester, an Adult Reading teacher, an EMT and CPR Instructor and a former undercover agent for the DEA, CIA and FBI.

What they have in common, besides being fun to be with, is a deep sense of commitment to their community and their families, since spouses and children were also invited. These volunteers purchase all their own supplies including backpacks, helmets, sleeping bags, emergency tents, Global positioning Systems, maps, compasses, horses, dogs and trailers.

Verde Search and Rescue is in need of strong hikers, but there is a job for everyone, no matter what your background.

The group meets the second Monday of each month in Camp Verde at 7 p.m. at the County Road Department off Cherry Road. For more information, or to make a tax-deductible donation, call Gary Blair at 567-0412.

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