The Niagara Frontier Search and Rescue Team
(This 1137th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on January 6, 2013.)
NSFAR Members on a Training Exercise
On a Friday afternoon in June 2011, members of the Niagara Frontier Search and Rescue (NFSAR) team met in Allegany State Park for a combination training and trail mapping weekend. That afternoon team members paired off and hiked park trails carrying Global Positioning System devices. They were gathering data that could be used for a variety of purposes including search and rescue operations.
By nine o'clock some of the team members had returned from their assignments, each involving a hike of between three and seven miles. They were getting ready to call it a night and bivouac.
Not on this night, however. Park police learned that two elderly adults, a man in his eighties and a woman in her sixties had set out that day to look for old growth trees. They had not returned.
The NFSAR training session immediately turned into a real search and rescue operation. A group of six NFSAR and three Park Police members quickly organized and set out to find the missing couple.
A tour of park roads turned up the hikers' parked car and the search was focused on that area. From there the combined NFSAR/Park Police search team headed into the woods and up a small stream, but the gulley they were following soon divided into three gorges. At that point the searchers separated so that each tributary would be explored. The land in that area of the park was so uneven that communication between the search parties was soon lost.
Finally, after another hour of searching, two of the search parties came upon the lost couple. The elderly hikers were found to be seriously dehydrated. Although they were able to walk, both needed support to make their way out to the road and the man had then to be hospitalized.
Although these two were not carrying all of the items everyone should take with them when they hike, they had done some things right: they let others know they were heading into the woods, they did have a flashlight and whistle and, when they learned that they were lost, they stopped and stayed together to wait for assistance.
With the couple saved, the successful searchers had to find the other search team and return to the Park headquarters. Only by 3:00 a.m. were the search teams finally able to get some well-earned rest.
This story had a happy ending and NFSAR members have told me about the tremendous satisfaction they receive from such episodes. Sadly not all have such happy endings, however. A year earlier, for example, also in Allegany State Park a man and his daughter became lost. The daughter found her way out to seek help, but the father was not found by search teams. His body was not chanced upon by hikers until almost two years later.
Who are these NFSAR members? I hope this column will make them better known for they are, I believe, among the best of our neighbors. NSFAR is an all-volunteer organization (members even provide their own equipment) that cooperates with public safety agencies and the DEC to carry out searches like those I described. Members are not only trained in search techniques but also in first aid, wilderness survival and map reading. And their training is on-going. The local team (for SAR is national in scope) averages about one search each month.
Today their membership numbers 46 men and women. Only a few are otherwise involved with related activities. The group includes, for example, a postal worker, a surgeon and several business executives.
Searches for lost adults or children could easily get out of hand if a disorganized gang of people headed out into wildlands. Within a few minutes there would almost certainly be still more people lost.
How then is the NFSAR team activated for a search event? A recognized agency calls the Erie County Sheriff’s Office to request a rural or wilderness search. Available team members are then paged through their phone network. They report to the designated staging area and there they support the search effort with both DEC-certified searchers and NFSAR crew bosses. That call may come day or night and NFSAR's dedicated volunteers help whenever their services are needed.