ST. MARYS – You may not always see them in action, but the members of Elkland Search and Rescue provide vital emergency services in Elk and neighboring counties and across the state.
"We actually are the only Pennsylvania-certified search and rescue team in northwestern Pennsylvania," said Matt Young, current president and deputy chief of Elkland Search and Rescue. "We essentially have from where we are all the way over to Ohio and from Interstate 80 all the way up to New York, is pretty much our coverage area."
Young said Elkland provides Quick Response Service. They locate missing or lost people, assist law enforcement when people are suicidal and located in rough terrain, and have even helped police in an evidence search throughout a wooded area in a criminal case. Some are certified man trackers who can track a person through the woods, several are certified wildland firefighters and others are firefighters or emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Members are also capable of high-angle rescue rappelling and swiftwater rescue.
"There's a diverse function that Elkland serves," Young said.
He said the main purpose of Elkland is to search for and extricate lost or injured people from the woods.
"The most common is a lost person in the woods. It could be a hunter. It could be a hiker. We've assisted with logging accidents, snowmobile accidents, ATV accidents. They're not necessarily lost; however, EMS personnel will have difficulty getting the injured person out of the woods," Young said.
"One of the biggest misconceptions is that we don't do anything because people don't see us doing anything. When we get called out, it's usually at night and usually in the middle of the woods."
The organization was founded in 1985 and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010. They currently have about 40 members, both men and women who live throughout the county, and John Feldbauer is the current chief.
Young said there was a plane wreck behind the St. Marys Airport that year, and emergency services personnel had trouble finding the site of the wreck. The people who assisted the emergency workers in locating the site all owned or were affiliated with camps by the area and belonged to the Campowners Association. The name of the organization was originally Campowners Search and Rescue. The founding members of Elkland are listed on wall plaques at the building: Dave Cunningham, Jim Benini, Dan Cunningham, Jack Cunningham, Chuck Cunningham, Howard Meyer, Dennis Schatz, and Jean Zore, who is still the group's treasurer.
Elkland was incorporated in 1988 as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. The group wrote up bylaws, but beyond that, had little in the way of equipment or supplies.
"At the beginning, we started out with absolutely nothing," Young said. "As time went on, they realized they needed a vehicle. Cavalier Roofing out of Johnsonburg donated our very first van in the spring of 1991. It was an old roofing van."
The members of Elkland equipped and outfitted the van themselves, and the owners of Penn Pallet Inc. stored the van and equipment for them.
"At that time, our callout system was fairly crude by today's standards," Young said, explaining that members used a phone tree and a few of the members' wives would go to Penn Pallet, open up the office, and start calling people whenever Elkland was called out by County Control or another agency for assistance. Now, the system is automated and calls go out to all members at the same time when the system is activated by Elkland's officers after they are contacted by a requesting agency.
The group erected their building on Brusselles Street adjacent to Quala-Die in the fall of 1992. Dennis Schatz, owner of Quala-Die, donated the land.
Elkland has regular meetings once a month. People who are interested in more information about the organization can call 781-1799.
"We just want the community to know we're out here," Young said.
Pick up a copy of the Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.