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Staying put key to being found

Waugh expects to see more children, and even adults, lose their way the rest of this year – especially now that squirrel season has begun and other game seasons will follow.

Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Waugh expects to see more children, and even adults, lose their way the rest of this year – especially now that squirrel season has begun and other game seasons will follow.

"We see hunters, whether they’re young or elderly, not come back in and we’ve had elderly people who hunt ginseng have a heart attack and can’t make it back out of the woods," he said.

Those who cannot respond make for the toughest rescues, but even someone out for a short walk in the woods can send emergency crews on all-day missions, Waugh said.

"Last year, we had more trouble around Lake Vesuvius with just a couple of people who lost their bearings and couldn’t get back and it took us hours."

And each time it happens, the lost hikers and their worried families take well-meaning actions that can cost rescuers precious search time, Waugh said.

"If you’re lost, don’t keep on wandering, despite your temptation to do so to find your way out," he said. "Stay put."

Once, on one of the warmer winter days, several children decided to walk around Lake Vesuvius, but quickly found themselves lost.

"They stopped and got under a rockhouse, kept themselves warm with a little fire and we were able to find them pretty quickly," Waugh said.

And although families might think they’re helping by combing the woods themselves, it actually makes it tougher on emergency crews, he added.

That’s because firefighters trained in search techniques rely on disturbed vegetation to find a trail. When family members add their own trails, it’s impossible to tell which one belongs the lost person, Waugh said.

And, search dogs can become confused when several people, or even four-wheelers, have zig-zagged across the lost person’s tracks, he said.

"Even if you’ve got good intentions and you hope you can help, you actually can hurt," he said.

For example, a few years ago, Elizabeth firefighters began a search for a 15-year-old girl but the family had already searched the woods several hours before calling, Waugh said.

"The dog would pick up a few tracks by the girl, then get confused because others crossed it," he said. "And if you get several people out in a wooded area and someone grabs hold of a small branch and breaks it, you don’t know later who’s done it."

If a family discovers a child is missing, there a few rules that can make a difference, Waugh said.

Those rules include:

– Don’t panic, then call a fire department of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department first. Both agencies have trained search and rescue personnel and maps.

– Check nearby structures, like outbuildings, and search through your house because children sometimes like to hide.

– Do not start searches through the woods. Once firefighters arrive, they will set up a search grid and be able to search larger areas faster.

"The quicker we can get out there, the better off they’ll be," Waugh said.

And, if you ever find yourself lost, just find a sheltered place and stay put, he said.

Search crews use the topographic maps to set up search circles, divide up and search each one systematically, starting with the one where the person was last seen.

If someone is moving around a lot, they could wander into an area that has already been searched, Waugh said.

"Your best bet is to stay still, because we’ll eventually cover that area," he said.