Special ops team needs help

The Patrick County Special Operations Team responds to any number of high-risk calls, and now the group needs help from the county.

Clint Weidhaas, a lieutenant with the organization, said the team needs $25,000 for training and to buy additional equipment needed by the group.

Weidhaas said the 22-member team is made up of volunteers in Patrick and Henry counties. The team is capable of performing high angle, low angle, confined space, collapse and tower rescues, but currently is not equipped for swift water, ice or grain bin rescues.

Weidhaas also said 14 members of the team currently do not have rope rescue training or gear. Some of those who have the training are not recognized as such in Virginia because the training classes were offered in North Carolina.

“To be compliant with Virginia standards for rescue, all 22 members need Virginia training,” Weidhaas said, adding Virginia’s training requires Introduction to Technical Rescue Module I and II before members can take any additional training such as confined space or rope rescue.

Additional gear is needed to outfit the team, and new equipment is needed to replace that which was damaged when the team responded to past calls, he said.

The team responded to calls in January and February to the Lovers’ Leap area of U.S. 58, to help search the terrain below the roadway and/or recover human remains, according to Weidhaas and Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith, who also recently voiced his support of the team.

Weidhaas recounted a Jan. 29 incident in which the team was summoned to help find the vehicle of a man missing from Henry County.

The vehicle was found about 200-feet down the side of the mountain, Weidhaas said.

The Patrick County Sheriff’s Office, Vesta Volunteer Rescue Squad, Meadows of Dan Volunteer Fire Department, Patrick County Emergency Services, Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management also were among the agencies to respond.

Following a two-day search, the driver was found an estimated 620 feet below the roadway, Weidhaas said.

“Due to the terrain, which was extremely steep, with rock face cliffs along with laurel thickets, it was determined” that team members would rappel down the side of the mountain, Weidhaas said.

Initially, they worked to help retrieve the vehicle. Later they returned to the site to help recover the remains, he said.

At the scene, it was decided that special ops team members and Patrick County Sheriff’s officers “would be lowered via ropes and rigging devices to retrieve the body,” Weidhaas said.

One member of the special ops team rappelled 620 feet down the mountainside, while eight members of the team stayed at the road to help hoist the Stokes basket (a type of portable stretcher often used in recovery efforts), with the recovered remains and the one team member back up the mountain, he said.

The rescue effort took an estimated 55 minutes, but the team spent a total of 63.5 man hours total during the entire search and recovery effort, he said.

The team again was summoned on February 20 to help with recovery efforts of remains that were found 300 feet down the side of the mountain, Weidhaas said, adding that the team spent nearly 32 hours helping with that incident.

The supervisors took no immediate action on the funding request; however a majority said they support the special ops team.

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