Thompson’s Field Serves As Lost Victim Training Grounds

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Police, Fire And Harbormaster News

Harwich firefighter Christina Regan and Fire Chief David LeBlanc work the incident command center during a Barnstable County Search and Rescue Team training drill conducted at Thompson’s Field on Nov. 4. PHOTOS BY WILLIAM F. GALVIN

HARWICH – The Thompson’s Field Conservation Area was alive with fire and police personnel last Thursday as the Barnstable County Search and Rescue Team canvassed the 57-acre parcel during a day-long training drill.

The training session included morning demonstrations on the use of drones and land navigation tools such as GPS and compasses. In the afternoon, teams searched the conservation area for volunteers serving as lost or injured victims. 

The search and rescue team is made up of fire department personnel from Bourne to Wellfleet who are called when there is a report of a missing person, Fire Chief David LeBlanc said. Often the team gets called out to assist in finding people with Alzhiemer’s disease or dementia, he said. The team has also responded to situations where there was a threat of someone planning to hurt themselves.

The team has been summoned to the Headwater’s area a couple of times to help locate people who were lost and darkness was setting in. LeBlanc said that in August the team was called out to help locate a couple who hadn’t returned from a boat trip and were last seen off Morris Island in Chatham. The regional dive team is a component of the search and rescue team, he added.

Because the drill was being conducted in Harwich, LeBlanc served as incident command officer. He was joined by Deputy Police Chief Kevin Considine and Lt. Adam Hutton. The Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Council’s Search and Rescue Team also has a role in the training.

“This is what we do when called out to a search,” LeBlanc said. “We join together. It’s a multiple jurisdiction operation.”

Brewster Police Chief Heath J. Eldredge said the law enforcement task force was formed two-and-a-half years ago. When a missing person has not been located, it is often not known whether there is a crime associated with the incident, he said.

“So we work in tandem with the fire departments,” Eldredge said.

Other search and rescue response officials participating in the drill included representatives from the state Environmental Police and rangers from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

During the morning demonstrations, the group learned about the use of drones in search and rescue operations. The Sandwich Fire Department provides the drones, which serve as an eye in the sky. Team members can view what the drone is seeing on the ground from cell phones.

The drones are equipped to pick up a person’s body heat. They have a spotlight for use at night and include an intercommunication system allowing the searchers to communicate with an individual discovered by the drone, LeBlanc said.

During the afternoon, two 10-member teams were given a scenario and then sent into the conservation area to locate a live victim and a mannequin representing a dead or seriously injured person.

An example of a scenario provided to one team was that a girlfriend and boyfriend were out partying in the woods and the boyfriend passed out. She got nervous and went home, and when the boyfriend did not return home, the search and rescue team was called out.

Deputy Chief Considine said what he took away from the drill is how good the technology is today.

“It’s great to have the police and fire departments working together. We work together well anyway,” Constidine said of the relationship between public safety departments in Harwich.

He praised the search and rescue training session, saying such training is necessary with the large population of elderly residents on the Cape.