By Rebecca Hertz
Killeen Daily Herald
They are always on call.
The SAR Team 16 of US Hero, based in Copperas Cove, was most recently called to service after Hurricane Ike in September 2008. The volunteers mounted hills of debris as high at 15 feet, trying to avoid unseen dangers as cadaver dogs followed the scent to lead searchers to victims.
"We were called in after the fact. We basically did recovery operations, searching for people using cadaver dogs," said Capt. Joseph "Bull" Hotz. "We were hoping to find survivors, but at that point it, was not a high probability."
Hotz, a correctional officer at the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, is the leader of SAR Team 16, which has been in operation just over two years. The volunteer group is on call 24 hours a day, every day of the year to assist in the event of a major disaster. The U.S. Homeland Emergency Response Organization (US Hero) provides search and rescue, and disaster relief, and has active units in Sunset Valley, Dallas, Austin and Copperas Cove.
Search and rescue volunteers complete National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) training and obtain National Incident Management Systems (NIMS) credentials. The nonprofit, membership-based group works closely with local fire departments, law enforcement and emergency management agencies including FEMA and Homeland Security.
US Hero is just one of many volunteer search and rescue organizations across the country. These are groups of ordinary people with families and jobs who give their time and resources to respond, when called, to assist in times of disaster.
A search can mean looking for an individual lost in the wilderness, a missing child or elderly person. It can mean responding to natural disasters that affect the safety of a large population. Although the team is based in Coryell County, they respond wherever needed.
Hotz said it's all about the training and preparedness. The group participates in training and drills monthly. Especially now, with the start of hurricane season, teams could be called into service at anytime.
John Martin has been a member of the team since October 2007.
He has worked as a fire fighter and emergency medical services responder, and was involved with search and rescue for the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995.
"When we are called, we will do our mission," Martin said. "And if nothing happens for four years, that's great, but eventually something will happen."
"Texas is very highly rated in search and rescue, we will turn over every rock to find what we are looking for," Martin said. "This is a great opportunity to make a difference in the world."
While team members are well trained to do their job, it is difficult to prepare for the devastation they may encounter in the field.
"Everyone reacts differently. Individuals are paired with experienced people who can help them through any physical or emotional problems," Martin said.
Tim Maloney joined the team in November 2008 and serves as executive officer for the team. He works as a DOD contractor mechanic at Fort Hood, is attending college to become a teacher and is active with the Boy Scouts.
"I make sure that we operate within all policy and procedure guidelines of Coryell County," Maloney said.
Maloney said the Boy Scouts participate in search and rescue training and he uses imagery of his SAR training in those exercises.
"My training with the team and in the army has been helpful when there has been a search for a lost Scout," he said. "That experience has helped me to be calm and go back to the basics."
The team is working toward organizing an explorer program for young people 14 and older, which would offer modified training and allow them to participate on certain missions.
SAR Team 16 meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 7 p.m. in the library of the Grace United Methodist Church in Copperas Cove. Meetings are open to the public.
For additional information or to become a volunteer or sponsor, go to www.sarteam-16.org.