When Rabun County Fire Chief and EMA Director, Marty Dixon, called on Dawson County Emergency Services to assist in the search for a missing man, the call wasnt for an extra set of hands.
It was for a set of paws the Dawson County K-9 Strike Team.
Dixon had recently witnessed the K-9 teams success, and he knew how quickly well-trained dogs can end a difficult search through challenging terrain.
Within an hour of the call, Dawson County Assistant Chief Danny Speaks and Vet-Tech Brian Lance arrived on scene with K-9 dog, Liberty. After unsuccessful ground and aerial searches, every precious minute mattered.
After being briefed on the situation and having an interview victims family, Speaks set Liberty to work. After a treacherous climb up a mountainside through dense shrubbery, Liberty hit her mark in about 30 minutes. The victim was found in light clothing in the cold, night air. He was disorientated, cold and thirsty.
But, he was alive.
Although the dogs on the K-9 Strike Team are trained extensively, their best asset is their nose. A search dog can distinguish 150 difference scents at one time.
When a search dog is in a building thats collapsed, it will run by all of the workers and check all of them, said Tim Satterfield, Dawson County deputy chief. And then they think, Ok, I have 100 people I went by, but I smell 101, and I cant find that one. Its that quick.
Dawsons Strike Team is part of the newly formed Georgia Search and Rescue team (GSAR). According to Satterfield, GSAR was formed when budget cuts and other strenuous factors forced FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to cut back on creating additional federal emergency teams.
They dont have the funding to create another federal team, explained David Atkins of Dekalb County Fire and a GSAR team member. In previous years, the state had to call dogs in from neighboring states to assist with search and rescue.
Atkins said the time lost was critical.
Youre looking at 12-18 hours before they can even get the dogs down here, said Atkins. And if youre in a collapsed structure, and you have crush injuries, youre not gonna last more than three days. Thats what we keep trying to tell the state, this needs to be done now.
These dogs are the only things that will find an unconscious human victim that is buried. Our goal is to build our team and add more dogs, more handlers, he added.
Satterfield said current research has not even scratched the surface on the dogs abilities and talents. They are finding out now that these dogs are not just hitting on live human odors, he said. They are hitting on breath, too.
Atkins said the K9 units are considered one of the most crucial tools in emergency services.
Just like a chainsaw, search teams, and solar devices, these dogs are tools, he said. But are they more than that to us? Yea, they are. Theyre our kids.