EDITORIAL: Search team should be an easy call for 911

York Dispatch editorial board
The South Central Search and Rescue Team

In any search and rescue mission, minutes count.

Whether it's an elderly person who has walked away from home on a snowy day or a hiker who has gotten lost in the middle of the summer, the faster people start looking, the better.

That's why it's frustrating to discover that the York County 911 system doesn't call out the York County-based South Central PA Search and Rescue Team right away when there's a missing person.

The SCPSRT is a 50-member support team that works with local police, fire, EMS and other first-responders whenever a search is called for, according to the group's Facebook page. They have a K-9 search team, mountain bike search team, ground search team and water rescue team, and the members are trained in everything from emergency medical services to handling hazardous materials. 

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Local police and fire crews call the group out 25 to 35 times a year to look for missing people and help with rescues. 

But the team doesn't receive any dispatches directly from the 911 WebCAD system because the team doesn't have a physical building, and therefore it cannot have a designated "first due response area," according to York County spokesman Mark Walters. A first due response area is the specific region a fire or rescue entity has jurisdiction based on where it is located. 

"Any team being considered to be dispatched on the York County 911's CAD is a nonstarter without a first due response area," Walters said.

The rescue team is in the resource book at the 911 Center, which means the dispatcher has to look them up in the book and call the team leader. The team leader in turn has to dispatch the team themselves using the team's own system, which costs $300 annually.

York County's system for dispatching countywide services lags behind those in neighboring counties. Chester, Cumberland, Lebanon and Lancaster counties all dispatch rescue teams directly from their 911 centers. They all confirmed they don't have a policy like the one described by Walters.

But York County's policy means that until the team has a physical building, it can't be called out directly. And the team has no intention of getting a building.

"Every dollar that gets donated to this agency goes back into the community in the form of either equipment or supplies to save someone's life," team president Michael Fischer said. "I feel that that is more important to the people that we serve rather than saying that we have a building."

Fischer is right. It's time for York County to stop holding onto the antiquated first due system and acknowledge that sometimes there are circumstances where it's more important to get the right people to the scene quickly than it is to continue to hold onto all the little fiefdoms that have built up over decades. 

Yes, there are times when the closest available team is the best for the situation. But many incidents around the county every day require the work of more than one department. York County 911 is capable of sending police, fire, EMS, fire police, the coroner and more to sites across the county easily. There's no reason the search and rescue team can't be added to that system.

And that change should be made quickly.

In these situations, there's no time to waste.