LOMAN – After about six hours of searching for a trio of lost campers near Loman last week, the group was successfully located by a volunteer search and rescue team.
Starting at about 2:45 p.m. Friday, teams trudged through mud and constant rain following a GPS map of the area, just off County Road 1 near the Big Fork River. The three teenage boys were located around 8:30 p.m.
And while the situation appeared real, it was a training exercise for a group of Minnesota men who volunteer their time to make a difference.
The Christian Aid Ministries Minnesota Search and Rescue, or SAR, team featured volunteers from all over the state who came to Loman last week to work on skills and master new roles.
“Friday went fantastic,” said Sheldon Zook, assistant director. “Everyone learned a lot and it was a successful day.”
Zook, a local EMT from Loman, said the mock lost campers set out around 11:30 p.m. Friday to the hiding spot they had established the day prior. Nobody involved in the training exercise knew where they were.
“We wanted it to be as real as it could be,” Zook said. “It was a great experience for everyone involved.”
Because volunteers are spread out throughout the state, Zook said if a call for help comes from the Borderland area, it can take four to five hours to have a team on the ground, but groups are ready to work upon arrival.
“Different people arrive to a scene at different times... When we are deployed, we can be on the road within 15 minutes,” he said. “If I’m on a scene during a search, my role is to decide where our teams are going to look and where they’re going to start looking.”
The Minnesota Search and Rescue team is relatively new to the scene. The group assembled in August of 2018, and has about 30 volunteers.
“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned,” Zook said.
The group is funded through donations and its services are free of charge to counties in need.
Willi Kostiuk, Koochiching County emergency management coordinator, who was on the mock scene Friday, said the team will be a great resource to the county if needed.
“The different capabilities they offer whether, it’s a search and rescue operation or disaster response, make them a multi-faceted organization,” he said. “They are highly trained and motivated volunteers”
Zook said oftentimes the group is summoned by law enforcement and the team works closely with everyone on a scene.
Koochiching County Sheriff Perryn Hedlund agreed with Kostiuk that the SAR team is a valuable resource to have available.
“Sheldon and the rest of the team... are highly trained and a great asset not only to us, but the entire state,” he said. “They are committed to providing a high level of service to this community if called upon.”