The organization, which has been active in Queens County for 27 years, is looking for volunteers, male or female, ages 18 or older. Those younger than 18 must get permission from their guardians.
Miller, president of Queens’ group, joined 14 years ago. A lifelong volunteer, Miller joined to have somewhere to volunteer when he moved from the Annapolis Valley to Liverpool.
Ken Oickle, who’s responsible for communications and investigations, came on board about 18 years ago. He says he became a volunteer because he wanted to gain the experience, knowledge and training.
Keeping up with training is one of the most challenging aspects of volunteering, says Miller. He adds it’s difficult to keep up with new methods of logging and tracking.
Despite the challenges, the men were quick to pinpoint the positive parts of the job.
“Finding the person alive, bringing them home,” says Miller.
“What I like about it is when you go out searching for the person, and you find him and he can walk back home,” he says. “That makes me feel good.”
When a call comes in, Duffney, Rafuse and Miller are on the list.
Whoever receives the call takes the information and writes it down.
“I immediately call my auxiliary lady. She has a call tree,” says Miller. “We need a certain number of people before we can ever roll.”
The first step is the hasty search. Volunteers will meet at Queens Ground Search and Rescue and go. The second group will get the command and logistics buses, both school buses carrying the equipment.
Miller then gets a call telling him how many people will be there. That way, Miller knows what everyone on the team can do. Some are trained to go in woods, others stay at the command bus and some might be floaters.
Because only 15 people volunteer with the Queens group, Miller says his next call is to the North Queens Ground Search and Rescue. Miller will tell North Queens what he needs, such as four searchers and a logistics person.
Once those in North Queens’ group have been contacted, the two groups meet at “eight mile,” between Liverpool and Caledonia.
“On the way out there, the search manager, whoever that may be, starts putting together what’s going to happen when we land,” says Miller.
Once there is a starting point, Miller says the group can put its knowledge and expertise together. That’s when there’s a second hasty-team search.
“The more people come in, the more organized we get,” he says.
“When the searchers leave to go in the woods, they should be prepared to be able to stay in the woods for 24 hours regardless of the weather.”
No one goes in the woods alone. There are always two people or more, says Miller.
Though the group has GPSs, Miller says volunteers have to know how to work compasses. This is included in the training, he adds.
Miller says he chooses a team leader and three people trained to go in the woods.
“We go to the map. We set up an area that we want them to start on,” he says. “They take their bearings where we are. This is where we want them to go.”
Lost and found
“Hopefully that person will speak to us,” says Miller about finding someone. “Some people will run. We have to be careful of this.”
Oickle says they approach the individual cautiously, speaking to them the whole time.
“Hey Bob. Is that you Bob? Are you okay? This is Dave,” says Miller, demonstrating what searchers might say.
The group has also had training finding people who have Dementia, says Oickle. Miller says the idea is to ask the person who has Dementia for help.
“Walk up to the person and say, ‘Hey listen, I’m going out your way. Can you take my hand and help me?’” describes Miller.
The centre of the search is the command bus, says Miller. Those in the bus would include someone from the RCMP, the search manager and a radio communications person.
Stored in the yellow bus are all the mapping systems. Miller slides some shallow drawers open to show the many maps.
Next to the command bus beside the Queens Ground Search and Rescue building is another school bus with the word logistics on the side. During a search, it too sits at the base with the command bus.
The logistics bus carries all the supplies. Oickle points to emergency blankets, first aid kits, an oxygen tank, safety vests, flashlights, survival suits, a neck brace and spinal board.
New to the group is marine equipment. Two boats on a trolley are stored in a trailer. The group also has a pickup truck to haul the trailer if it needs the boats.
“We need them (volunteers) to take training, training and more training,” says Miller.
Any training volunteers require is paid for. Some of what is included are first aid, map and compass and woods-wise survival training.
Though volunteers should be healthy and relatively fit, Miller says there are jobs that don’t necessitate going in the woods. In addition to training, volunteers also get required clothing.
“We have another grant in the works of $350,000 to outfit 1,200 members across the province with turnout gear,” says Miller.
There are no women in Queens’ group who volunteer as ground search and rescuers, but Miller says women are more than welcome to join. The group also has an auxiliary with 19 members.
The auxiliary fundraises and helps the group when it’s doing searches. If the group is in the woods and needs food, auxiliary volunteers help with that, along with many other things.
There are 24 ground search and rescue teams in the province, and each is under the Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Association. Miller is the secretary of the association.
The association is working to outfit the groups with new mapping systems, radios, computers, radio receivers and antennas, among other items.