There is so much information I want to share that I will have to break it up into a few posts.
A 15 year old boy, Jaden Dremsa, went missing in southern Maine Thursday 5/8 and Maine Mounted Search and Rescue (MMSAR) was notified the following Sunday that the horses were requested for Monday.
The Maine Warden Service (the star of "Northwoods Law") is in charge of every land search in Maine (except for in Baxter State Park, which has 24 hours for its own rangers to search before calling in the wardens). When someone goes missing, the wardens decide what resources are needed based on a number of factors and calls out the appropriate units. The Maine Association for Search and Rescue (MASAR) is the umbrella organization and sets the training and certification standards for each member unit. (Besides us, there are 14 other units including a K-9 unit...the dog team is usually one of the first units called out.)
So the wardens can elect to search by themselves, call out only the "professional volunteers" (MASAR-certified members), or ask the public for assistance. We do not bring the horses to searches unless we are specifically requested to. The wardens conduct several hundred searches a year and they have a lot of resources, including dogs and boats, as well as access to planes and helicopters. Their success rate is phenomenal and they often don't get to the point of needing to call out anyone else. My unit typically gets called out to 6-12 times a year, the less specialized units tend to get called out a little more often.
In the search for Jaden last weekend, it was all hands on deck meaning public assistance was requested. People in the community and across the state poured into Waterboro to help with the search. We had members of MMSAR there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday doing ground searches and support work.
When the wardens asked on Sunday for the horses to be there Monday, Harlan and I had just gotten done trail riding with Melissa, an MMSAR board member and past president. Tanner is not certified yet so I knew I wouldn't be going on a mounted search, but Melissa's truck was in the shop, the current MMSAR president (who lives in the area) Sharon's trailer wouldn't accommodate Peekaboo, Melissa's abnormally long horse, and her truck wouldn't comfortably haul Melissa's trailer the 2.5 hours to the search. As I was conveniently there with the F-Bomb, I offered them its services.
Considering it was all hands on deck, Sharon and Melissa suggested that if I could, this would be a good time for me to get my feet wet with the SAR process. I thought about my work schedule on Monday and made the decision to go on the search, finding coverage and notifying work. I took Harlan home and the following morning got up at 3 am to drive back to Melissa's to pick up her, her trailer, and Peekaboo. We met Sharon and her horse Zephyr at a truck stop, moved Zephyr to Melissa's trailer, and headed south.
|The F-Bomb looking official|
When anyone, civilian or professional volunteer, gets to a search they check in with Dirigo. Dirigo is a unit based out of Orono that handles the resources for the wardens at many searches. Each volunteer gets a "T-card" with their name on it; established units have permanent T-cards while civilians get their names handwritten on temporarily-kept T-cards.
The T-cards allow Dirigo to make sure everyone is accounted for and they help organize the chaos.
Since we are a specialized unit, Melissa and Sharon went to the wardens' command post after checking in with Dirigo to get their assignment. (A second horse team of Ellen and Colleen had already gotten their assignment and were out on the search by the time we arrived.) They handed their GPS units to the wardens who then downloaded a track onto it, the area they needed to search. They were given instructions of where to park the trailer, said goodbye to me, and headed out.
I went back to where Dirigo was stationed, the lobby of a church that had opened its doors to the searchers. The wardens had their command post trailer parked in the parking lot. I started helping civilian volunteers check in; they signed in on a clipboard, I made a T card with their name on it and put it on the board, and they went to wait in the sanctuary for their assignments. When there were enough people, teams of ~10 were assembled, team leaders briefed (if a warden wasn't the team leader), and were sent out to search.
Even though it was a Monday, over 180 civilians showed up to help. The church opened its kitchen and had church members making breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as making sure there was enough water and bug spray to go around.
It was incredible to see the community response. Jaden and his family weren't members of this church yet they threw open their doors to help. People who didn't know Jaden checked in and tromped through the woods and ticks on an assignment, came back to Dirigo and asked for the next assignment.
|In that box are all the T cards for civilians that showed up to search for Jaden Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.|
You can't see all of the bug spray but it was A LOT. One woman came in with some and said she had taken all of the spray that Walmart had.
I can't describe the feeling of being part of this. Although the family was there and worried sick and my heart ached for them, the amount of support, love, and determinedness to 'search til you drop' was enveloping. I felt so much affirmation that this is what I want to do, this is what I want to be a part of. I can't wait for June 27 and 28 to certify Tanner.
They didn't find Jaden on Monday. A couple of our mounted teams were ready to go on Tuesday if they were called out but the wardens decided to focus the search, using only their internal and state police resources.
I didn't get home til midnight so was a little late to work and when I got there found some discord about my Monday absence (and future absences due to searches). To go from such life-affirming, feeling-like-part-of-a-bigger-than-me-thing emotions to a mix of shame, disappointment, anger, and panic was not fun.
Then we add in a 2 day state-wide MASAR conference this past weekend hosted by my unit and featuring me as the volunteer coordinator, and then the news that Jaden's body had been found in a nearby lake...I am exhausted in all ways.
I am so sorry for Jaden and his family, but relieved that they have an answer and grateful that I found something that fulfills a big part of something in me.
Stay tuned for a post on the conference and another on the specifics of mounted searches.