Halton Personnel in Lowland Rescue Team

  |  Published: May 8th 2015
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Two members of RAF Halton’s personnel, Squadron Leader Ali Sandeman, and Sergeant Gaz Elliott, are members of the Search Dogs Lowland Rescue team.  They became involved after speaking to the Search Dogs Buckinghamshire Stand rescue team at the Buckinghamshire County Show in 2013.

Search Dogs Buckinghamshire (SDB) is an entirely voluntary team made up of people from across the county. The team comes under the national umbrella of Lowland Rescue, responsible for over 33 teams across the country. Most counties have a foot search team and some, like Buckinghamshire, have a dedicated dog search unit as well. The role of SDB is to search for vulnerable missing persons. The team is tasked directly by Thames Valley Police and is on call 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Unfortunately, thousands of people go missing each year but it is those that are deemed to pose a high risk such as children or dementia sufferers that the team are tasked to search for. With 40 to 50 call outs per year, and not just in Buckinghamshire, they are regularly tasked to assist neighbouring teams in Oxfordshire, Surrey, Berkshire and as far a field as Warwickshire, with their 45 members with 8 search dogs. Other members have dogs at various stages of training which can take around 18-24 months to complete. Both Ali and Gaz are operational members, as is their pet Springer Spaniel, Beau.

Gaz explained about the team and how it works, saying: “Most people have heard of mountain rescue. Those hill hardened individuals that go out in all weathers to search for and rescue stricken climbers and lost walkers, but up until I went to the county show I had never heard of Lowland Rescue.”

“All of the dog training is conducted ‘in house’ by our own K9 training team and, when deemed ready, they are then put forward for a national assessment. The test is notoriously stringent, for good reason, and at the time of writing there are only around 47 qualified search dogs nationally operating for Lowland Rescue. The majority of dogs are ‘air scenting’ which means they are trained to locate generic human scent. This means that when searching an area, if the dog picks up on human scent, it will alert its handler then take them back to the source of the scent, hopefully the missing person. The team also have dogs training in other disciplines such as man trailing, where the dog follows a particular scent from a scent article left by the missing person, and victim recovery dogs.”

“Training the dog is only half the story as each human member goes through a comprehensive training package to ensure they have the skills required when out on a search. Skills such as navigation, communications, water safety, fitness and search techniques are all taught before a member is allowed to become ‘operational’. When deployed on a search, we usually operate in a team of two; dog handler and support. The supports role is to concentrate on navigation, communication, first aid etc so that the handler can focus on working the dog. If needs be, all team members can operate independently of a dog and be employed as a foot search team.”

“Unfortunately all this does come at a cost and because the team is voluntary, we don’t get any official funding from the Government or the Police. Team members’ equipment such as uniform, radios, maps, search kit etc is all purchased using donations raised from charity events and dog equipment also costs a substantial amount with a harness and light collar costing in the region of £80. We constantly attend events with our road show to help raise awareness and funds, and SDB also has the honour of being one of RAF Halton’s chosen charities for 2015.”

“To help in the funding I will be travelling to the Himalayas in May 2015 to trek to Mount Everest Base Camp and to climb Island Peak (6300m). I am aiming to raise over £3000 in sponsorship to fund the teams training. If you would like to be part of this adventure then please join the Facebook page ‘Halton to the Himalayas’ where you will be able to follow my progress as I prepare for the challenge and find out a little more about the team. Alternatively you can check out the SDB website at http://searchdogsbucks.org.uk/.

If you would like to donate then please visit my online donations page where 100% of the money raised will be going to SDB: Fundraiser profile page - BT MyDonate.”

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