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Pictou County Ground Search and Rescue recruiting new volunteers

Gary MacKinnon is an experienced ground search and rescue member and has helped with searches throughout the province when called upon.
Gary MacKinnon is an experienced ground search and rescue member and has helped with searches throughout the province when called upon. - Adam MacInnis

Experience matters when it comes to a search.

Gary MacKinnon has been involved in Pictou County Volunteer Ground Search and Rescue since it started in 1996 and has seen every type of search you can imagine.

He’s helped with searches for lost children who got had a fight with their parents and ran away. Other times he’s looked for seniors who wandered off with dementia. Sometimes it’s been for lost hunters.

What he’s learned is every search is different and needs to be handled uniquely. Most people want to be found, but there are some cases where people don’t want to be.

Searching for children can present its challenges as well, because although they often want nothing more than to be reunited with their parents, he said they will sometimes be scared when they hear searchers coming.

Over the years MacKinnon has picked up the skills to know how to deal with each of these situations in the best way possible, and he’s thankful for other experienced members of the Pictou County Volunteer Ground Search and Rescue

But he said they’re currently in need of some new recruits. They average about 60 members at a time, but only a fraction can make it out to any individual call.

“We are getting old in the tooth. We need younger people. The average age is probably mid 50s,” MacKinnon said.

The type of skills needed vary widely.

For those who want to actually take part in the physical aspect of searching, they need to be in pretty good shape.

“The average person has to be fit, capable of spending one to three hours hiking in the woods,” he said. “You can be on assignment for 12 hours. If you are, you are going to be dragging when you come out.”

But there’s also a need for people to manage the headquarters on a search scene as well.

“You don’t have to be able to walk for miles and miles if you’re in headquarters,” he said. One department in the province, for example, has a dedicated member who is in a wheelchair but provides valuable assistance.

With a change in communications in recent years, he said having someone with computer skills would be incredibly valuable.

“It’s a whole new ball game,” he said. “We actually need some young people with computer experience who have no desire to go in the woods to train in headquarters. We need three or four of those.”

Those who want to join are given training on not only how to conduct a search but for simple tasks such as reading a compass, what to wear and lessons on what they need to bring with them.

While there is a reward in being able to have a part in successfully finding someone, MacKinnon said it’s not a job for someone looking for the limelight.

“There’s no glory in this,” he said.

Some searches end in tragedy, although MacKinnon said it’s rare for a searcher to actually end up coming across a body. But it can be hard when it does happen and there are protocols in place to help people know how to handle those situations. Counselling is available as well to help.

At the end of the day, it’s a valuable service that serves a vital role in the community. He encourages others who might be interested to find out more and consider joining.

Want to join?

If you are interested in joining Pictou County Volunteer Ground Search and Rescue email pcvgsar@gmail.com and they’ll provide you with the forms and requirements. There will also be information available on Sept. 1 at the Walmart parking lot in New Glasgow. That day, they will have a command post set up to show some of what’s involved in the set-up for a search.

Want to help?

Pictou County Volunteer Ground Search and Rescue started selling tickets Aug. 8 for their “Find Your way to Great School Supplies” contest. The lucky winners could walk away with an iPhone 7 32GB package including case and screen protector valued at over $900 which is donated by Wireless Personal Communications as well as gift cards to various local businesses.

The tickets are being sold for $5 each and will be sold until Sept. 8 or until all sold out. The draw will be held Sept. 8.

Where to buy tickets:

Highland Square Mall: Aug. 20-Aug. 24

Pictou Sobeys Store: Aug. 20-Aug. 21

Wilsons Shell Garage on the Sunrise Trail: Aug. 8-Sept. 8

Sharp Styles Unisex Hair Salon, 483 East River Road, New Glasgow: Aug. 8-Sept. 8

Coco Beach Tanning Salon, 21 Heritage Avenue, Stellarton: Aug. 8-Sept. 8

Walmart: Sept. 1.

Pictou Exhibition: Sept. 6-Sept. 7

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