Harpswell seeks certified search-and-rescue volunteers

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HARPSWELL — The town is seeking volunteers to join the Maine Association for Search And Rescue to aid lost hikers.

Don Miskill, the town’s former recreation director, is helping to organize the recruitment effort. He said the idea came after he learned how to become certified by MASAR and realized how that could benefit future rescue efforts in town.

Within the last two years, he said, two hikers became lost on Cliff Trail, a 2.3-mile loop located on Great Island. One of the hikers was eventually able to find their own way out, but the other, who became lost on July 7, 2013, required a four-hour search by the Maine Warden Service and local law enforcement.

During that search-and-rescue effort, Miskill said, he and others who have comprehensive knowledge of the town’s trails were not able to help because they weren’t trained and certified by MASAR, the volunteer group that is accessed by the warden service when hikers become lost.

“In (the past), we would not be involved,” he said, “and we were the ones who designed the trails, built the trails and take care of the trails.”

But after learning how to become trained and certified by MASAR at a Maine Appalachian Club meeting in January, Miskill realized that could change.

And that it could mean faster searches in the future. 

“We need to get certified, so when somebody does (get lost), Miskill said, “this will really speed the process.”

The Recreation Department has already put out a call for volunteers to local groups, including the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust and the town’s three volunteer fire departments.

Miskill said the response has been encouraging, with interest expressed from 18 people. He said the town will unquestionably welcome more prospective volunteers because “the more you have, the better.” He added that people from out-of-town are also welcome to join.

“We’re not going to turn anybody away,” Miskill said.

He said an informational session with MASAR board member James Bridge, and possibly a game warden, will be scheduled soon.

Bridge, who also serves with Maine Search and Rescue Dogs, said MASAR training and certification would involve a $35 online course, an eight-hour practical course, a course about Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, a first aid and CPR course, and, finally, a physical fitness test.

The practical course involves teaching volunteers survival skills, including how to find lost hiker, how to escort him or her if they are immobile, and how to navigate the wilderness by day or night.

The physical fitness test provides volunteers an option of completing a one-mile speed walk, a 1 1/2-mile jog, or a two-mile “packed” walk, for which participants must carry a 25-pound backpack.

Bridges said MASAR training and certification typically takes two to six months.

According to MASAR’s website, members must pay annual dues of $45 and keep their certification valid. MASAR is a completely volunteer-run organization that covers all of its own equipment and travel costs.

Bridge said beyond being able to assist with searches in Harpswell, MASAR volunteers will also be called on to assist with searches around the state.

“(Most) of the time the Maine Warden Service only calls certified people,” he said, “because of the training and because they know what to be able to expect from each person.”

Prospective volunteers should contact Recreation Director Gina Perow no later than April 11 at 833-5771 ext. 108, or contact her by email at [email protected].

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.