Program is a true lifesaver

Published 9:15 pm Monday, September 10, 2012

For emergency responders — firefighters and medical personnel alike — one of the most stressful calls that can come over their radios is the one announcing that an elderly person or a child has wandered away from home and is lost. Parts of Suffolk are nearly inaccessible, there are many areas where a wandering person lacking complete mental clarity can come to serious harm and every minute that passes without finding a lost and wandering person results in the potential search area expanding ever more widely.

Nationwide, such searches often end in tragedy. But that’s not the case for people who are served by Project Lifesaver International. The nonprofit Project Lifesaver program uses technology to help first responders find missing people with cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, autism and Down syndrome. Those protected through the program — including 36 people in Suffolk — wear transponders on their wrists that allow them to be tracked with radio equipment kept by fire departments and other first responders in 46 U.S. states, as well as Canada and Australia.

During the past 13 years, Project Lifesaver has been part of 2,568 searches, with no serious injuries or fatalities ever reported among its clients, according to the organization’s website. Most searches for clients last fewer than 30 minutes, which is something that all of the involved parties — the lost person, her family and first responders — appreciate.

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Considering that stellar track record, one might expect the folks at Project Lifesaver to charge dearly for the service. In fact, though, it’s free to the participants. Those participating families that are able to do so are asked to contribute $5 a month for new batteries, but the vast majority of the cost — including the thousands of dollars spent on transponders and tracking equipment — is borne by the organization and its donors.

You have a chance coming up to support this worthy program during a fundraiser at 7 p.m. Monday at Amici’s, where participants will enjoy a four-course meal paired with four wines and hear Mark Eggerman, the state coordinator for search and rescue, speak on the Project Lifesaver program.

For tickets, call 754-8787. Or to donate to the program directly, make a check payable to Suffolk Project Lifesaver Search and Rescue and send it to 300 Kings Fork Road, Suffolk, VA 23434.