Press-Republican

September 30, 2013

Joint effort locates missing woman

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — WEST CHAZY — When his wife didn’t return home from an afternoon walk in the woods, David Scales called 911 from his Route 22 home in West Chazy.

That contact set wheels in motion that are very well oiled, for after 9/11, local emergency services and law enforcement became part of a renewed national effort to improve inter-agency communications, according to Clinton County Director of Emergency Services Eric Day.

“Both face-to-face verbal communications, actually working with each other, as well as the technology and with (more sophisticated) radios and whatnot — we’ve been the students of that schooling.”

INITIAL SEARCH NEGATIVE

So with limited daylight left for the search for Helen Scales — whose husband called 911 at about 5 p.m. that day earlier this month — county dispatchers immediately transferred the call to State Police, who began a missing-person search for her. 

State Police also contacted the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department and the State Department of Environmental Conservation for assistance, he said. 

“An initial search of the surrounding areas was negative,” State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Trooper Jennifer Fleishman said in an email.

GRID SEARCH

The next step was a grid search with help from multiple fire departments and State Police K-9 handler Matthew Ross, she said.

A helicopter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection scanned the area from the sky in an attempt to locate Mrs. Scales, who is 85.

Clinton County Deputy Fire Coordinator and Chazy Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Michael Cahoon and other deputy fire coordinators were called in as well, Day said.

Border Protection employees used all-terrain vehicles and night-vision equipment to search the woods after sunset, he said.

West Chazy Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Kevin Girard, who worked with other department heads to coordinate the search, said his department was called out at about 8:30 p.m.

He immediately called fire departments in Beekmantown and Chazy for backup, and once he arrived at the site of the search, he called Altona and Champlain Volunteer Fire Departments for mutual aid.

A total of 56 people participated in the search, he said.

‘HEARD HER NAME’

Following protocol, firefighters from Altona and Champlain yelled Mrs. Scales’s name every couple of minutes as they moved through the woods, Girard said.

At last, he said, “she heard her name, and she hollered back to them.”

It was about 11 p.m. and Mrs. Scales was in a heavily wooded area east of her home, Fleishman said.

“She was cold ... It was 35 degrees. It was the coldest night of the season at that point in time,” Girard said.

Champlain Volunteer Fire Department had brought a Kubota rugged-terrain vehicle, accompanied by an advanced emergency medical technician, so she had medical care and transport the half mile or so out of the woods, Girard said.

Mrs. Scales was not injured during her hours in the forest, he said.

She was taken to CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh for evaluation, however.

Girard said there are trails in the woods where Mrs. Scales was found and that her husband almost always accompanies her on a daily walk there.

‘GOOD TEAM EFFORT’

Day applauded the effective communication between agencies that led to the favorable outcome.

The Adirondack Technical Rescue Task Force was activated that day, which summoned personnel from fire departments around the county, Day said.

“This unified command was established pretty early. It was a good team effort by a lot of people.”

Day said most backwoods searching in these kind of situations is done by Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers.

“They’ve got a lot of experience.”

While Day wasn’t out in the woods searching, he was able to hear what was happening as the effort intensified.

“I listened to it on the radio. I was actually in the office here trying to print them some maps,” he said. “When they said they found her, I went up.”

“Where she was, it took them quite a while to get her out.”

‘COMMUNICATION IMPORTANT’

Inter-agency communication was key, Day said.

“In this case, it worked very well, I think.”

“It could not have gone any better than it did. It flat-out went excellent,” Girard said.

“Fortunately, it’s not every day that we do search for people.”

He said he and the other firefighters were grateful for coffee and hot chocolate provided by the West Chazy Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary.

“They made sure the firefighters were taken care of.”

‘TRAGEDY AVERTED’

The last time Girard remembers participating in a search and rescue effort was eight or nine years ago — that incident also ended well, when the missing man was located, also in the woods, with no injuries.

Day offered a word of caution to those who go into the woods alone. 

“You shouldn’t leave the beaten path unless you’re familiar with the skills of trying to navigate in an unknown area.”

While the Scaleses didn’t want to talk about that frightening experience, Mr. Scales did write a Letter to the Editor expressing gratitude to those who turned out to help.

“I want to say thanks to all the volunteers and professionals who worked together so effectively in the recent search for the missing person,” he wrote. 

“The cooperation between all those involved in the search and their individual dedication resulted in a successful search and probably prevented a tragedy. 

“What goes around, comes around ...”

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg