Emergency response team expanding to Bath area

Published 9:58 am Sunday, July 13, 2008

By Staff
Helps with communication, body searches, water rescues
Staff Writer
A statewide search-and-rescue group is moving equipment to Bath and training local members so it can be more active in this part of the state.
In June, North Carolina Canine Emergency Response Team member George Venuto of Bath and Mac Morgan, the group’s chief of Apex, asked the Bath Board of Commissioners for room to store rescue equipment.
The request was granted.
Venuto joined the group in December of 2007, he said, after talking with another member who attended the church he joined in Bath.
Venuto said the group was a natural for this type of work; he is often dealing with crisis situations in his job at IBM.
The team is funded by donations and grants, not state agencies, Morgan said.
One of the group’s recent acquisitions is a side-scanning sonar unit, which cost more than $32,000, Morgan said.
The sonar, which uses a small towfish pulled behind the boat to send and receive soundwaves, allows searchers to look along the bottom of a body of water for drowning victims. Once the group finds a body by sonar, members drop a buoy so divers can go to it and look for the individual.
While response time is not critical in searching for drowning victims, who are already dead, it can make all the difference when the team has been called out to search for a missing child in the winter, or an Alzheimer’s patient in the summer, Morgan said.
So far, the group’s been called out twice this year in this area, Venuto said.
Other times, group members are sent for by the state government. Recently, the team sent a group trained in swift water rescue to the mountains of North Carolina at the state’s request.
The group is actively recruiting and volunteers who can only respond to local scenes are welcome, Morgan said.
But, because of the more distant deployments and the hours of training needed to stay up-to-date, Morgan’s wife calls it his most expensive hobby yet, he said.
Extra training is also needed to engage in technically difficult rescues, such as from swift water or collapsed structures, and every team member is a ham radio operator, to help with communications during disasters.
It’s important to know one’s limits and be aware of the basic physical requirements of the job, Morgan said.
Morgan, a former sheriff’s deputy and former police chief in Oriental, founded the group in 1999, and its equipment had been kept near him, in Apex. He said that Bath had stepped up in a big way by allowing a boat and vehicle to be stored in a locked town building.
Without Bath’s help the group might not have been able to place equipment in the eastern part of the state, Morgan said.
The group has also been talking with John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency management coordinator.