The Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue (MDISAR) team, which assists park rangers during wilderness emergencies in Acadia, is one of 15 similar volunteer groups in the state.
Volunteers come from all walks of life, current MDISAR Vice President Al Simons said. “I’m a software engineer; we have medical doctors, current and former park rangers, a naval architect and more. A huge variety of people are into this.” He said they’re all motivated by altruism, “going out of your way, spending your money and your time so you’re in a position to help somebody” when needed.
The group assists with technical rescues – using rope systems to safely move incapacitated patients in perilous locations – and also routine “carry-outs” along hiking trails and carriage roads in Acadia National Park and beyond. The group trains year-round, meeting four times a month, including some weekends.
Simons said the group responds to calls from two activating organizations: Acadia National Park and the Maine Warden Service.
In Acadia, if someone’s injured on a trail, they sometimes need to be carried out on a wire stokes litter. “That takes a team of at least 12-15 people,” Simons said, “because six people at a time carry the litter, and you need to be able to spell them.”
The Warden Service is responsible for all search-and-rescue operations within the state on land or on inland waters except in Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park. Last year, MDISAR members assisted the Warden Service in a search along part of the Appalachian Trail. On-call duty officers with Maine Search and Rescue coordinate the response of all 15 local groups responding to such an event.
Members carry pagers in order to respond to calls, but the dispatching system also sends out emails and text messages.
The skills needed to accomplish the technical rescues are related to but different from technical rock climbing. “Some of us have dabbled in climbing,” Simons said. “One of the people on the team is a climbing guide. I used to climb and was amazed how different it was when I got on the team. I thought I knew what I needed to know, and I didn’t.”
Simons said his experience with MDISAR has shown him new areas of Acadia. “It’s also changed what I’m aware of when I’m on the trails,” he said. “I’m always thinking, if something were to happen here, how would I get a person out? I used to hike light, now I always carry basic safety equipment,” such as a first aid kit, whistle and compass.”