Meridian Star

Local News

March 7, 2014

Meridian leading state search and rescue training

MERIDIAN —     Meridian has become ground zero for training instructors in the important art of search and rescue.

    Led by three men who are members of the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), the three-week program being taught now at the Meridian-Lauderdale County Public Safety Training Facility on Sandflat Road is a state sponsored program that according to the three instructors, Benard Fontaine, Paul Burke, and Dan Hourihan, is a first in the nation.

    "The state of Mississippi is to be commended in making the commitment in search and rescue," said Hourihan, a retired Alaska state ranger. "This is a model program for the entire United States and these men who are going through this class right now will be instructors back in their home areas."

    NASAR is an education association comprised of thousands of dedicated paid and nonpaid personnel — all active or interested in search and rescue, disaster aid, emergency medicine and awareness education, Burke said.

    "This program is from a Homeland Security grant," said Burke, who is a retired Alaska state trooper. "We have taught this program all across the nation and one of the unique aspects of this training is the science that goes into helping searchers locate people."

    The training facility has 3,300 acres in which to use in search and rescue. Bunky Partridge, director for the Meridian Department of Homeland Security, said this kind of training, along with the facilities to house and feed the students, could only be done in Meridian.

    "We are working to be the home base of NASAR so that whenever they need to train people in this region they will come to us," said Partridge. "Our facility is unique in that we can replicate any kind of scenario, plus house the students, plus give them a classroom environment to learn these skills."

    Fontaine is a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army and he likes the logistical aspects of the training facility as it pertains to the teaching style required for a search and rescue curriculum.

    "We are fortunate to have this facility," Fontaine said. "Once someone achieves a certification they are always looking for that next step. They can get that here because the facility is so flexible."

    In Fontaine's mind, search and rescue has taken a backseat to other emergency services such as law enforcement, fire prevention, and medical services. But he said search and rescue is like the fourth leg of a chair. Yes, you can sit in a chair if it has only three legs but it is more prone to turn over. The fourth leg, search and rescue, completes the solid foundation.

    "Search and rescue incidents are as much of a crisis as any fire, crime or medical emergency," Fontaine said.

    Mark McGavock is a fireman at Batesville Fire Department and he, along with 24 other handpicked emergency personnel from across the state, are in their third week of training in the NASAR program.

    "This is a lot different that what I've learned before and I can see the big advantages of how this system will work in the field," McGavock said. "Now I will have to take this back and teach it to others. I think they will see the differences like I have."    

    Hourihan said once this program is over the men who have completed and graduated will be nationally certified Tech 2 search and rescue instructors.

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