Pennsylvania Search and Rescue Council Meeting Notes

18 October 1986

The meeting was called to order by Dr. Keith Conover, somewhat past 1000, at the state fire academy in Lewistown. (There was some delay in arrival of many people because of the Penn State homecoming football game traffic, which seemed to fill the entire middle of the state.) A list of those present is attached.


Dr. Conover gave a brief spiel on search and rescue and on his experience with the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference (ASRC), Civil Air Patrol, and Emergency Medical Services. He discussed the nationally-renowned success of the Virginia Search and Rescue Council, which has improved the quality of search and rescue in Virginia since he and a few others started it several years ago. He told about rivalries and misunderstandings among both state agencies and volunteer groups, and how the Virginia SAR Council has tempered these. He noted the great number of volunteer SAR groups in Pennsylvania, and he concluded with his hopes for a Pennsylvania SAR Council that could be as good or better than Virginia's.


Dr. Gary Mechtel, of the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference's Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group, gave a presentation on "Search and Rescue in the Mid-Appalachian Region," which was also presented as one of the formal papers at the National Association for Search and Rescue's (NASAR) annual conference the preceding September. The presentation discussed the distribution of search and rescue incidents in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and the current status of search and rescue in each state. (Gary gave out copies of the paper at the meeting. Additional copies are available from him: Gary Mechtel, 7153 Peace Chimes Rd., Columbia, MD 21045.)


Ken Boyles, of the Pennsylvania Department- of Environmental Resources (DER), Bureau of Parks, and James Lipko, of the DER Bureau of Forestry, are the SAR Coordinators for their respective Bureaus. They gave a presentation on the DER's role in search and rescue in the state, which is primarily to provide overhead teams and searchers for SAR incidents on state lands, although they also provide overhead teams for SAR incidents off state lands as well. In 1983, they began using National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) Managing the Search Function (MSF) course as training for DER personnel managing searches on state lands, and now they have 70 "Search Managers" who have MSF or equivalent training, 35 other "Search Responders" with search initiation training, and personnel to form hasty teams.


Representatives at the meeting briefly described themselves, their organizations, and their interest in the SAR Council. (I cannot accurately reproduce all the information about each SAR organization, but will note that written information about most of the organizations was brought for distribution.)


All present agreed that the SAR Council was a good idea, and that it was acceptable for the ASRC to continue SAR Council coordination for now. After brief discussion, the topic of SAR Council structure was tabled, and those present agreed that simply continuing with quarterly meetings was enough for now. The next meeting was set for January 10th, in Altoona, hosted by Keystone Search and Rescue.


All meeting participants participated in a discussion of the question: who has authority and responsibility for search and rescue in Pennsylvania? The overwhelming consensus was that there is no statutory authority or responsibility for search and rescue in Pennsylvania, although local jurisdictions have some claim to it. A general though not universal consensus wished to give this authority to the DER.


A discussion of establishing a single statewide alerting number reached no conclusion, but touched on a DER number (the DER is, however, probably not eager to take on this responsibility) or a SAR Council number (several volunteer groups offered their numbers for this use). - Ken Boyles and Jim Lipko noted that DER has a 24-hour hotline (717-787-4343); although trained dispatchers are not always available, and thus it is not suitable for a 24-hour statewide SAR alerting network, search and rescue was recently added to the list of emergencies it would handle.


Everyone agreed that a statewide SAR Resource list would be useful, and the Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group's Contact List (see most recent version, attached) would serve as a starting point. Greater Philadelphia SAR distributed Mutual Aid Questionnaires and was to gather all this information for a later meeting.


We talked about SAR legislation, including bills to provide Workman's Compensation to volunteers, and to provide DER or some other agency with authority for SAR. Joe Weyrich of Juniata SAR agreed to chair a SAR Council Legislation Committee, and to present some information at the January meeting, including copies of current bills and suggestions on how Council members could support SAR legislation.


The generally-agreed need for cross-training resulted in tentative plans for statewide SAR educational conferences and simulated missions.


The membership agreed to ask all agencies and organizations to fill out standard NASAR mission reports for all missions, and to send them to: Ken Boyles, R.D. #3, Box 2250, Newville, PA 17241. Ken has extra copies of the report form if you need some.


We established the focus of the SAR Council as wilderness search and rescue, even though some organizations are involved in other related activities (e.g. forest fire suppression, urban search and rescue, tracking of criminals, or law enforcement). Some representatives suggested widening the scope of the SAR Council to include all types of emergency response, but others thought this would dilute the effectiveness of the organization. The representatives' consensus was to let interest and attendance determine the initial makeup.


Since the fire rescue service has gone from using manila rope to adopting more modern climbing and caving equipment, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has belatedly set up safety standards for rescue equipment that are based on the type of equipment long used by mountain and cave rescue teams. However, in some areas, the NFPA standards may require use of equipment which is more heavy or bulky than appropriate or -needful for wilderness rescue (where every ounce must be carried for long distances up mountainsides and through caves). The Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference has a committee investigating these standards and deriving recommendations for the SAR community. Dave Vint, of the ASRC's Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, is heading this committee and will coordinate with other interested SAR Council organizations (Dave Vint, RD 1 Box 171A, Greensburg, PA 15601; 412-832-2687)


The Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference and the Center for Emergency Medicine of Southwest Pennsylvania, with the cooperation of many other organizations, is planning a curriculum of Wilderness EMT, Wilderness Paramedic, and Wilderness Command Physician training for July. Dr. Conover will make a report at the January meeting.


Irv Lichtenstein, of Greater Philadelphia SAR, was appointed to chair a Communications Committee, with assistance from John Kihl (ASRC) and Bruce Barton (NorthEast SAR). Our Communications Committee will coordinate closely with ASRC and NASAR in identifying SAR communications needs, and pursuing the technical and regulatory goals needed to 'meet these needs, including the development of new radio systems and dealings with the Federal Communications Commission and other regulatory bodies.

At the January meeting, Irv will propose an inifial SAR Council Communications System Plan for review and approval. This initial Plan is to include only tactical (mission-oriented) communications, i.e. between Field Teams and Base Camp. Current Plans are to use the primary frequencies 155.235, 155.265, and 155.295. (The reason for requesting these "splinter" frequencies is because of FCC-mandated frequency coordination with other users of the VHF radio band.)


Everyone agreed that we needed to widen the representation at the next meeting, and we made up the following list of potential contacts:

        State Fire Association State Police

        State Assn. of Sheriff's Departments Fish and Game Commission

        (The DER SAR coordinators were to write letters to each of these agencies, tell them about the SAR Council, and obtain mailing addresses.)

        Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council Civil Air Patrol

        Allegheny National Forest National Park Service Military, especially the USAF National Guard

        US Coast Guard

        US Army Corps of Engineers DAN (Diver Alert Network) Deep Mine Safety Agency Pennsylvania chapter, ASHBEAMS (American Society of Hospital-Based Emergency AeroMedical Services) Greensburg, PA Volunteer Fire Department's "Rescue East"

        Cave Rescue Team, Nittany Grotto, National Speleological Society Members were to obtain addresses for as many as possible of these agencies, and to make informal contact if possible.

The meeting was adjourned until January 10th. 12/25/86

Respectfully submitted,

Keith Conover, M.D.

(p.s. does anyone else want to be secretary?)