Search and rescue groups test skills

A cracked lower leg bone protruded through Ron Morrison’s khaki pants and blood-red stains spilled around the slash in his slacks. From the look of the wound you’d expect Morrison would be screaming in agony, but he was all smiles on Saturday.

Karin Velthuys-Kroeze ties a corner of her tarp down to a tree as she builds an emergency shelter during a Search and Rescue practical training course near Heritage Ranch

A cracked lower leg bone protruded through Ron Morrison’s khaki pants and blood-red stains spilled around the slash in his slacks.

From the look of the wound you’d expect Morrison would be screaming in agony, but he was all smiles on Saturday.

The gruesome wound was merely stage make-up, created to help test the skills of nine volunteers for Red Deer and Didsbury Search and Rescue groups this past Saturday at Heritage Ranch in Red Deer.

The testing was the culmination of an 80-hour course of basic skills training that every search and rescue person must undergo.

Tyler Landon, of Red Deer, decided to take the course because he wanted to start volunteering and he wants to be a firefighter in the future.

“It’s a good way to get experience and help out,” said the 20-year-old.

He plans to train as a firefighter in British Columbia in January.

“I like the outdoors. I haven’t done a ton of it before so it’s a good way to gain knowledge about it.”

During Saturday’s test, the new search and rescue volunteers had to start a fire from scratch in 15 minutes, hike three kilometres, have 10 critical items in their packs, build a shelter, give first aid, navigate, search for evidence in a field and finally — once nighfall hit — search for someone in the woods.

The activities started at around 1 p.m. and continued into the evening.

“I think I should be OK as long as I didn’t forget too much stuff,” said Landon, early in the day.

The activities felt a little like watching the television show Survivorman up close.

“We like to challenge them,” said Randi Butler, logistics manager for Red Deer Search and Rescue.

She said the challenge for the new volunteers is for them to remember what they’ve learned and not get nervous.

Organizers had the site set up as any search operation would be, with the Red Deer Search and Rescue’s command post on site.

The command post, created out of a travel trailer, is set up with wall-to-wall whiteboard space and high-tech computer equipment that allows searchers to track on a digital map what areas have been searched through GPS.

Red Deer Search and Rescue volunteers can print out profiles based on the kind of person who is lost to help them determine how to best use their resources in a search.

For instance, a hunter from Alberta moves in a much different way through the woods then a child, someone with Alzheimer’s or a person with developmental disabilities who is lost.

Red Deer Search and Rescue volunteers help the RCMP search for people and evidence around 30 times a year, said Ric Henderson, one of the Red Deer Search and Rescue trainers.

Henderson said the organization is always looking for new recruits.

“It is like any volunteer organization, the more people the better,” he said.

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