ScoutingOctober 2002


By Douglass K. Daniel

Ohio Scouts test their search-and-rescue skills in realistic situations to discover how they might respond when the pressure is on.


For nearly an hour, along a lonely ridge in eastern Ohio, dozens of Scouts had slowly and deliberately searched for signs of a missing hiker. Now they sprinted toward the thicket of trees where she had been located.

Star Scout Eddie Warner's eyes widened at the sight of a young woman on the ground. Blood stained her right leg, and bone protruded from a compound fracture of her left arm. As Eddie searched through his first-aid kit, Patrick Saum—like Eddie, a Star Scout from Troop 257, Somerset, Ohio—took the injured woman's hand to comfort her. "Everything's going to be O.K.," he said.

More Scouts arrived with a stretcher basket and other rescue gear, and one Scout began to bandage the woman's injured leg. "Don't touch it!" she screamed. "It hurts!"

Patrick tried to focus on the injuries. "Somebody get me some big sticks," he said, "and stabilize that leg."

But the Scouts were beginning to argue over the best way to treat the injuries and carry the victim to safety. When one Scout covered the woman with a blanket, a second Scout protested: "Hey, we'll need to get her on that blanket to get her into the basket."

"No," replied a third, "we've got other blankets."

"Oh, no," the victim cried out. "You don't know what you're doing!"

Preparing for the real thing

To learn how to organize and carry out a search-and-rescue effort was why Eddie, Patrick, and the other Scouts from Troop 257 came to last April's Muskingum Valley Council Zane Trace District Search-A-Ree. The Search-A-Ree was held in a remote area on the grounds of the Wilds, a 9,100-acre wildlife conservation center in Muskingum County. With more than 200 other Scouts from central and eastern Ohio, they spent Saturday morning, in groups of 50, in hourlong sessions at a series of learning stations.

They found out how to set broken bones and other basic first-aid techniques, how to read a map and take a compass bearing, and how to sweep an area in search of an injured person.

At the orienteering station, Staff Sgt. Jerome Thibaut, a U.S. Army recruiter from Cambridge, Ohio, showed the Scouts how to read a map to avoid water and other obstacles.

"Save yourself time and energy," Thibaut said. "It's all about ease, safety, and quickness."

He pointed at a spot on the map and asked: "Why do you care where a hill is?"

"You don't want to fall off," a Scout answered.

"Right!" the sergeant said, "—because if you do, we'll have to find both the lost hiker and you. This is not a race..."

Each training session was a refresher course for some Scouts and a revelation for others.

"I've never learned it before," said 12-year-old Jason Beaver from Troop 121, Nashport, Ohio, after instruction on how to set a broken bone. "Now, if someone breaks a leg, I can help."

"I learned more about how to transport victims in safer ways," said another Troop 121 Scout, Jerron Funk. "This class gave me a much better idea of what to do when we have a real situation."

Where is Cynthia?

An afternoon test—saving a "lost" victim—would demonstrate how much they had learned—and how much they still needed to learn.

Troop 121 assistant Scoutmaster Carl Church explained their mission: Six teams of six patrols each would search a portion of the heavily wooded ridges near the camp, find a missing hiker, treat any injuries, and carry the victim back to camp.

"And it won't be as easy as you think," Church warned.

The Scouts from Troop 257 joined the team looking for a hiker named Cynthia. They only knew what she looked like—5 feet 5 inches tall, 120 pounds, blond hair, and hazel eyes—and the area where she was last seen.

Using skills learned in the morning, the Scouts lined up for a sweep of the terrain. Within a few minutes they were trudging across the valley, about 100 feet apart, their boots sinking into soft earth matted with thick grass and pocked with ankle-twisting holes. At an increasingly faster and faster pace, they moved toward a slope leading to the woods.

"Slow down, guys—it's not a race," cautioned National Guard Pvt. E-2 Jeffrey Cavendish. "See how your line keeps getting bunched together?"

The Scouts spread out, but once they entered the woods, they again fell out of formation.

"Hold up," Cavendish called out. "You guys are losing people," he said, and instructed the patrol leaders to re-form their search lines. "You've got people up there and way back here. Try to keep it together, or you'll lose somebody in our group."

Communication and cooperation

The Scouts eventually reached a cliff overlooking a lake, with no sign of Cynthia. "Could we be heading in the wrong direction?" Cavendish asked the patrol leaders.

They took another look at their map, then began to backtrack. They turned in a new direction, spread out through the trees and brush, and voilà! Someone encountered Cynthia.

Her realistic screams of agony unnerved a few of the Scouts who tried to provide first aid. "Be a friend," advised Tosha Holdren, a member of Explorer Post 189, and on hand to offer first-aid guidance. "Talk to her."

"There should be one person giving instructions," Jeffrey Cavendish advised the boys when they began to disagree over how to treat Cynthia's injuries. At that point, Patrick Saum and Eddie Warner took charge, working together with assistance from other Scouts. Soon, they had the broken bones immobilized and Cynthia in a stretcher basket for the hike to camp.

Ready to save a life

Afterward, the Scouts reviewed their experience. In particular, they appreciated the realism, down to the make-believe compound fractures and the fake blood. Most important, they recognized their weak points—which was exactly what the adult leaders had hoped the exercise would accomplish.

"It was hard to find her and hard to treat her," Mitchell Moore, 11, a First Class Scout with Troop 257, admitted. "I was hoping she'd be on the other side of the ridge, where it's clear, and not in the woods. And then we had to put up with all the screaming."

"She screamed so loud, it broke my eardrums," Patrick Saum confessed. "I think we did pretty good, but we need to work on our directions. We zigged 100 yards from where we should have been."

"This showed us what we'd really do in that type of situation," observed Tenderfoot Kevin Moorehead. "With all the trackers we had, I thought we'd find her quicker...I never thought we'd almost get lost."

The day's event "tied everything together," said Darrin Collins, a Life Scout with Troop 257. "They taught us what we needed to know and then made us do it. And the result showed what we need to work on more."

"I'd be very scared if it had been real," admitted Second Class Scout Doug McCafferty. "We were very disorganized, and if it would have taken that long to find her, she might have bled to death. The key is to get organized, get in there, and get out of there in as little time as possible and as safely as possible."

The Scouts left the Wilds of Ohio determined to be better prepared to respond to an emergency.

"I tried to take it seriously and learn as much as I could," Eddie Warner summed up. "I want to be able to spring into action—and possibly save a life."

Freelance writer Douglass K. Daniel lives in Athens, Ohio.

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