Search & rescue teams train for the real thing

Geoff Dornan /

Geoff Dornan /

Carson Search and Rescue teams, deputies, members of the mounted unit and pilots from the air squadron combed the hills west of Carson City on Saturday looking for a woman and her two missing sons as well as a 34-year-old man who disappeared after a fight with his brother.

“This is one time when I can guarantee we’ll find them,” said Bill Fergus of the volunteer search and rescue group.

That’s because it was an exercise to hone their skills and teamwork for the real thing.

The practice is important because, according to SAR Commander Nino Iannacchione, the real thing happens in the region eight- to 12-times a year.

Fergus said altogether 10 reserve deputies, eight mounted officers — including four from Sparks — 12 SAR members and two pilots from the Aero Squadron joined in the exercise.

The two men coordinated searches in Kings Canyon and Ash Canyon from the sheriff’s department command center RV, which set up at Silver Saddle Ranch.

“We are sitting in the dispatch area,” said Sheriff Ken Furlong.

He said the RV center allows the two to manage the teams of searchers effectively,

“The fewer people engaged in command of an incident, the more structured your response will be,” Furlong said.

The search for the missing woman and her sons went quickly compared to some exercises in the past. They were found in less than four hours.

But it was almost not quickly enough for Nino’s wife Penny and her sons who played the missing family. They got down from Kings Canyon just minutes before it started to rain. She said she would not have been happy if the rains caught them on the mountain — a fact not lost on husband Nino who, thinking of his family getting soaked as the clouds began to build, asked what happens to the participants if it rains.

“They get wet,” said Fergus.

“It was fun,” said Penny. “It was a very grandiose game of hide and seek.”

She said she, Nathanial, 14, and Dominic, 11, had a bird’s eye view of the mounted patrol and others searching for them.

“Through binoculars we could see everything,” she said.

They watched the search aircraft fly right overhead, apparently without seeing them and watched the riders climb the hill until they did find them.

After descending the dirt road leading up Kings Canyon, Deputy Ed Park said the horses give them an advantage in any search because you are sitting higher above the terrain and can spot things a searcher on foot could miss.

Joe Bruno, commander of the mounted unit, said searching from atop a horse’s back is a definite advantage not only in spotting some one who may be injured and off the road but in getting to the. Afterall, he pointed out, the horse is the “original all terrain vehicle.”

He said the exercise gives every member of the team vital practice for the real searches to come. Bruno said because there are only two mounted units of law enforcement officers in the north — Carson City and Sparks — four members of the Sparks team joined Saturday’s exercise.

“We always work together,” Bruno said.

Fergus said training “brushes the cobwebs out,” for all members as well as improving their teamwork skills.

In addition to up to 12 major searches they expect every year, they said there are numerous smaller events SAR is called in to help with, ranging from an Alzheimer’s patient who walks away to missing children or teens who go unescorted into the hills and swift water rescue.

Furlong said the team has also expanded its role beyond just finding people missing in the mountains around the capital.

“What has really happened with these guys is they have become like an auxiliary unit of the detectives,” he said.

Furlong said the exercises are important and they try do at least one major event each year along with numerous smaller training programs.

Both training and actual search incidents are greatly helped by the quarter-million dollar, fully equipped RV command center. Furlong said that vehicle, paid for almost entirely by Homeland Security grants, is also available for fire, public works and other emergency uses. He said it’s also in the process of getting some major upgrades including a satellite dish, weather equipment and computer improvements.

“The vehicle is where all information comes together.”


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