As Pine Mountain Search and Rescue enters its 10th year of service, we at PMSAR would like to update you on how we’ve grown and what we do.
Letcher County Emergency Management Director Paul Miles asked the Letcher County Fiscal Court to allow him to write grant applications to create an ATV Rescue team to perform rescues of ATV and horseback riders on December 15, 2008. The original intent was to use all of the fire departments in the county to perform search and rescue tasks in their areas.
Three weeks later, on January 4, 2009, three hikers from Virginia became lost in the fog near Pound Gap, and one fell, breaking a leg. Nearly every fire department in the county, plus local residents and Black Diamond Search And Rescue from Wise County, Va., responded to Bentley Loop at Payne Gap and spent all night and most of the next day finding and extracting the injured man.
Eight days later, Pine Mountain Search and Rescue, a volunteer agency soon to be specially trained and equipped for wilderness rescue, held its first meeting at Whitesburg City Hall. The first meeting was crowded with ATV riders, hikers and sportsmen who had never been involved in emergency services, and many of those are with PMSAR today.
We are an independent agency that operates under a memorandum of understanding with the county.
In the past 10 years, we have grown, become better trained and expanded our mission to include disaster response, and outreach to teens.
In 2009, PMSAR had more than 120 members on its roster, however those numbers quickly thinned out. About six years ago, we trimmed our membership to about 30 people, and it remains in that neighborhood today, though it fluctuates as new people join and others move away. Miles, who founded PMSAR, is chief. Sam Adams, who joined in November 2009, is assistant chief.
All but the very newest members have been trained in Basic Search and Rescue, land navigation, the National Incident Management System, Mantracking, helicopter Landing Zone training, and wild land fire survival. All have at least first aid and CPR training. We have one EMT and one paramedic.
At least some members have been trained in ATV safety, defensive driving, Moving Water Rescue Awareness, Search Management, rope rescue, Air Force Basic Inland Search Course, Red Cross Shelter Training, basics of urban search and rescue, Lost Person Behavior, and meth lab awareness.
PMSAR also provided training in Narcan use to first responders throughout the county, and trained its own members.
While PMSAR had one rescue truck 10 years ago that was donated by Floyd County Rescue, and vehicles and have come and gone over the years, we now have several vehicles.
PMSAR has a Jeep Cherokee for “hasty searches” to get members closer to inaccessible areas and speed up response.
We have a 3/4 ton rescue truck that we use as our primary rescue truck.
In cooperation with the Letcher County Police Department, we have two military HMMWVs (Humvees). One is stored at the Gordon Fire Department, along with our diesel Kawasaki Mule UTV, to provide quick response in the Hurricane Gap area of Pine Mountain and along the southern end of Little Shepherd Trail. Gordon Fire Chief Allen Cornett and other Gordon Fire Department members are also members of PMSAR, and respond with us using that equipment.
We also have a Kawasaki Teryx UTV, and we a 16-foot utility trailer that carries the Teryx and more equipment kept at our station at Mayking, which is centrally located in the county.
Our station is also relatively new to us. Until this year, PMSAR had shared space with the Letcher County Police Department (the Rangers), the coroner, and the fiscal court in the basement of the Sheriff ’s Department. We moved into the old Civil Defense Building at Mayking in June of this year, expanding from our former home.
In 2010, three of our members were asked by Sheriff Danny Webb to become special deputy sheriffs so PMSAR could assist with Project Lifesaver, a program that provided wristbands to persons with Alzheimer’s and autism. Those bands emit a radio signal that can be located if the person wanders away from home and becomes lost. While all of those three team members have left the sheriff ’s department, PMSAR has now assumed responsibility for the Project Lifesaver equipment and program and is in the process of raising money to train new people and buy wristbands.
Finally, we have begun a program that was conceived in 2016 as “Adventure Ventures” for teens to get them involved in community service and keep them out of trouble. That grew into Explorer Post 1, part of the Boy Scouts of America, and the only Explorer Post in Kentucky that is associated with a Search and Rescue squad. Grant money from Letcher County United for Substance Abuse Prevention and Project UNITE, we have purchased packs, equipment, and awards for teens that participated in our first two years.
We teach our Explorers that just as a compass can be pulled off true North by a magnet, there are also magnets in life, such as a peer pressure, that can pull them off course and into destructive behavior.
We have trained the Explorers in all the things our regular members are trained in, so at 18 they can become fully trained members of PMSAR. Teens as young as 14 may join Explorers.
While we have existed for 10 years, we have done so on a shoestring. While the county has provided us with surplus vehicles and a building, we survive mostly on grants and donations, and an occasional fundraiser, such as hotdog sales, road blocks and picking up litter along Little Shepherd Trail on Derby Day. Members have been known to put gas in vehicles themselves, and to buy water and food for the whole team when we are out for hours or even days on a search. By law, we cannot charge for rescues, and no one gets paid.
You probably have not heard of all that PMSAR does, because we do not regularly issue press releases about rescues unless we are asked. We report to Kentucky Emergency Management in Frankfort.
We would like to thank everyone who given to help us keep up the service, and those who have offered thanks or words of encouragement when they see us out in our orange shirts and reflective coats. If you want to know more about what we do, PMSAR meets every first Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at our station, 2145 HWY 119 North.
Announcements of meetings are always made of our Facebook group, and our meetings are open to the public, and we welcome new members. All members are required to fill out an application and pass a criminal background check. We tell everyone that they don’t have to be able to scale a cliff to be a member. There are ways that everyone can help. Anyone interested in joining can contact us through our Facebook group.
If you have a search and rescue emergency, call 911 and request a response from PMSAR.
We will have an open house in sometime in the spring to celebrate our tenth year in service. Thank you for your support. MEMBERS OF PINE MOUNTAIN SEARCH AND RESCUE