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Finding missing people has its key in teamwork
Buy this photo » Left to right Daniel Brown, Karen Edwards, Steve Archibald and Paul Minto
IF a dementia patient or someone at risk of suicide goes missing, a small team of dedicated and highly-trained volunteers will search for them.
Oxfordshire Lowlands Search and Rescue (OXSAR) is a 42-strong team who give up their time to help police search for people at risk of harm.
They are called at a moment’s notice to help scour the countryside, towns and waterways to find people and return them home.
The team comes from all walks of life, from teachers to retired investment bankers – but what links them is the desire to help their community.
OXSAR spokesman Steve Archibald said: “Most of our work involves people who have gone missing and police believe are at risk of harming themselves or coming to harm.
“That might be an old man with dementia who has gone missing and not come home or it might be someone who is despondent and has left a suicide note.
“Most of the time it is a happy end, but sometimes unfortunately it is not.”
He said the team is called after police have exhausted their lines of inquiry.
A message is then sent to the team’s four call-out coordinators, who send a text message to everyone in the team to find out who is available.
Once everyone has replied, the coordinator phones back the police and says, for example, they have 15 members who can be there in 45 minutes.
Teams of four – featuring a team leader, navigator, first aider and someone on communications – are then put together for the searches.
Mr Archibald, who runs an oven-cleaning company, said 20 to 40 people go missing in the Thames Valley every day.
He added: “The thing that goes through our minds when doing anything like this is that it is someone’s mum or dad, brother or sister.
“It boils down to a family somewhere waiting for their loved one to get found. That is why we put ourselves out there, to help our community in any way we can.”
The team is highly trained in navigation, search techniques, communications and basic life support and it can take up to a year before a trainee is ready to go out on live call-outs.
Mr Archibald said: “It sorts the wheat from the chaff. We could always do with more people, but it is quality rather than quantity we need.
“It can be demanding. We can get called out at 4.30am to the middle of a forest, or it can be in the blinding heat and we have got to wear our full kit.
“But I would highly recommend it, it is so rewarding to be part of the team and help people in the community.”
Across the UK there are 31 lowlands search and rescue units, which include 1,288 members, who have been called to 1,017 incidents in the past year.
The units have contributed 154,424 man hours in the past year, saving £2.95m in equivalent police salary, a spokesman for OXSAR said.
STEFANIE TAEUMER, 46, is a self-employed gardener and landscaper from Shirburn, near Thame, who has been working with the search and rescue team since February last year.
She has completed 10 call-outs since.
Asked why she joined the team, she said: “That is a funny story. I read a book a friend of mine left at my house.
“It was a crime story and it was about a missing person in Henley who it turned out had been murdered.
“A search and rescue team was sent out in that book and I thought, ‘That sounds interesting’. I did some inquiries on the internet and I found my team.”
She added: “I love being a member of the team. It is very satisfying to look for despondent people and then find them alive and well.
“You sometimes get a thank you letter from the families as well and you see how important it is. That is the best part of it.”
Asked what the hardest part of the job was, Miss Taeumer said: “I would say the hard part about is when you get the briefing and you learn that the person might be suicidal, and then you go out in the dark always expecting that you might find that person dead.
“That is the worst part, that you go out with that thought.”
She added: “It used to be more dementia patients, but I was told recently that it has changed in the past two years, it is more despondent now.
“That makes me aware of how many people are really desperate and are suffering from depression at the moment.”
- To donate to OXSAR, text ‘OXSR05 £5’ or ‘OXSR05 £10’ to 70070. To find out more information or to get involved, visit oxsar.org.uk
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