Search Team Ready At Moment’s Notice

GERRY – Whether for a lost fisherman or an injured hiker or worse, the Chautauqua Area Search Team is trained to respond to a variety of emergencies in the county.

“We will get called for any number of situations,” said David Pachan, New York state forest ranger for Chautauqua County. “It could be almost anything that involves search and rescue.”

Under the oversight of Pachan, CAST partnered with the county Office of Emergency Services last year to ensure insurance coverage for its members.

Currently there are a half-dozen trained “crew bosses” with the team who can lead a search group through dense forest or rugged terrain. The bosses act as land navigators, Pachan said, noting several first responders currently are in the process of being trained as leaders.

“Everyone has to know how to use a GPS and has to know how to use a compass,” Pachan said. “They need to have good land navigational skills.”

He added: “Very rarely do we get a search during the day when it’s 70 degrees out in flat terrain. It’s going to be at night; the weather is going to be bad, and it’s going to be hilly. So you have to know how to make it through the woods.”

CAST, which was established more than 16 years ago, can be requested by any fire department in the county. Local or state police agencies also have the power call for the search team.

The all-volunteer group is summoned through IamResponding, a dispatch system that notifies volunteers of an emergency, who in turn can immediately announce they are en route through their cellphones. Every volunteer fire department in the county employs the system, fire officials said.

Pachan, meanwhile, said CAST can be deployed for numerous rescue missions.

“We’ve had everything from lost hunters, lost fishermen – which is one of the most recent searches we’ve had – despondents and even runaways,” he said. “Really anything, other than if it’s criminal in nature, then the team wouldn’t be utilized.”

On the county’s end, CAST falls under the technical rescue division within the emergency service’s office.

“This partnership was really more of a paperwork kind of deal,” said Charlie Smith, county deputy fire coordinator for technical rescue.

Steve Rexford, a CAST crew boss, noted that under certain rescue situations, the county technical rescue team would be utilized.

“We’ll go out and look for someone, and if they’re near the lake on a cliff, (technical) rescue may be the ones to come in and extricate the person,” Rexford said.

The search team was dispatched in November 2011 to Twenty Mile Creek in Ripley after a fisherman became lost. Pachan said a helicopter spotted the lost man, who was then guided by a search team out of the gorge.

“People can get lost pretty fast,” Pachan said, “especially if they aren’t used to the area. Thankfully we have people who are trained that know how to handle the wildlands.”