MFD conducts search and rescue training using blend of methods | News

Bounding through the field at Washington Marlatt Memorial Park, Duke, the Manhattan Fire Department’s 3-year-old Labrador Retriever trained in search and rescue, tried to pick up a scent for a “missing” person.

MFD’s technical rescue team conducted wide area search and rescue exercises on Friday, deploying a blend of physical grid searching with its singular canine and drone technology.

Duke is a live-find air scent dog, meaning rather than sniffing an item to find an individual, he is trained to detect airborne particles that carry human scent. The particles are more concentrated the closer they are to someone.

After walking a few minutes through the brush with his handler, Kody Songs, following behind, Duke perked up and took off toward the tree line, barking to alert Songs of their missing person, a firefighter who’d hidden himself behind the tall grass.

Battalion Chief and training officer Jason Hudson said if a situation necessitates it, the technical rescue team can blend systematic grid searching, canines and technology to give them the best chances of finding people. He added that in his years of doing search, however, using a canine has helped save a lot of time and resources.

Songs said all methods have their pros and cons, and they work best in tandem with one another. For example, he said Duke can get into dense brush where drones can’t, but drones can sweep a wide open area, saving him from looking everywhere.

“On a hot day, I’m going to run (Duke) out pretty fast,” he said. “We can search through thunderstorms and rain and stuff where (drones) can’t, so there’s a give and take on that, but also it’s really nice to have that drone do an open area search. … I think there’s a yin and yang between the two, but I think that they go hand in hand.”

Back at their base of operations in the Kansas Farm Bureau parking lot, firefighters trained or in training for drone usage watched and navigated a DJI Mavic drone over the park, providing an aerial view of the scene.

The drone can reach speeds around 30-40 miles per hour, so it can quickly scan an area. The fire department currently has two other drones, another DJI Mavic and a DJI Mavic Mini. Deputy Chief Ryan Almes said the fire department is looking to secure a larger drone, a DJI Matrice, that can carry small loads. Almes said having this capability could allow the department to carry a life vest to someone, for example, or to remotely take samples in hazardous waste situations.

Outside of helping with searches, MFD also uses drones at the scenes of fires, which can help with assessing the full scope of an incident.

“With the hotel fire at the Hampton Inn two months ago, (a drone) was flying above and it really helped us out,” Hudson said. “One of them has thermals so it can see what part of the building and what actual rooms are on fire so we can send crews inside and tell them to go to this (room)… they went right there and they pulled the ceiling down and put the fire out. (They’re) very effective.”

The fire department plans to continue doing search training exercises over the next two weeks, weather permitting.

Its technical rescue team is part of the Northeast Kansas Task Force II Search and Rescue Team and Kansas Task Force I, both of which consist of nationally-accredited technicians and operations support personnel.

According to the department, they can conduct rescue operations at structural collapses, rope rescues, confined space rescues, water rescues, trench rescues and wide-area search incidents.

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