CERT uses horse sense in drill

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

They have done it before – but not like this. This past weekend, at the On Top of the World communities, they searched on foot and on horseback to find people who had gone missing in the woods around the community.

But it was just a drill.

It was the first time that the OTOW Citizens Emergency Response Team and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol would participate in a disaster exercise together. “We are just flying high about this,” said Marion County Sheriff’s Office CERT Coordinator Norman Scott.

In order to execute the trial run, the group had to come up with scenarios for the drill. A grandfather and grandson went into the woods in the gated community. The elder man fell and broke his hip. The young 12-year-old grandson, who was played by Scott’s grandson, Brody Lanctot, left his grandfather to seek help.

But the youngster’s rescue mission was cut short when he tripped and hurt himself. After neighbors realized the twosome did not return from their adventure on time, they went into the woods to search.

They did not return either. The CERT group was alerted and members assembled in a line to begin their search.

With members carrying supplies in bags, the 40-some members assembled with nine riders from the MCSO Mounted Patrol behind them. Eight of the Mounted Patrol members are volunteers with the exception on Sergeant Scott Byrd, who is with the MCSO Patrol Division.

With the team members walking forward in a line, they began looking for the mock victims. As each victim was found three members of the team would tend to the person.

The first causality to be found was Lanctot. Volunteers Carol DeYoung, Patricia Woodbury and Helen Simmons, who is also a retired nurse, responded to the grandson. The women accessed his injuries and one pulled a sling out of their safety bag and put it on the boy.

The mock grandfather, who was played by Gary Rodoff, had his legs tied together and he was put on a plastic “skid.” The skid was then tied to a rope and Rodoff was dragged to safety with the help of a volunteer of the Mounted Patrol unit.

The horses for the Mounted Patrol are owned, maintained and transported by the volunteers who ride them. The horses are put through levels of training, which is provided by the Sheriff’s Office. The animals are tested on basic skills such as a trot and canter.

In addition, Byrd said there are three levels of certification for the horses. Through training, the horses learn skills like crowd control, gun fire training, and preparing them for unexpected distractions that could spook them.

After the search and rescue operation the CERT group became the tactical problem and participated in a crowd control drill with the horses. “I think they did really well today,” Byrd said of the mock training.

In addition to assembling to find missing people the team has other functions. In case a natural disaster hits, Scott, whose wife, Caroline, is coordinator for the OTOW CERT team, said it could take several days for outside help to arrive at the community. So, in gated communities the CERT team is the first to respond.

When a hurricane passed near Ocala a few years ago, the group began knocking on doors and checked for roof damage. “I can’t tell you the appreciation people had for someone checking on them,” he said.

Once they have assessed damage within the community the team reports to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Members of the team must go through a 10-week certification course, consisting of four hours. Each member is trained in CPR and field first aid. “We are constantly doing trainings,” Scott said.

The 40-some members of the OTOW team will have at least twelve training exercises a year.

For more information about CERT, call 368-3583.