Stacy Watts and Fancy
Kurt Hornicek with Sierra
(4/5) If your child wanders away from
a picnic into the woods, the Thurmont
Community Ambulance Company wants you to call
them for help.
If you do, they will deploy their newly
certified Thurmont Canine Search and Rescue
Team to conduct the search.
The team is one of a handful of canine
teams nationwide that is affiliated with a
fire and rescue company, according to team
leader Kurt Hornicek.
Hornicek said it has taken all of those
five years to obtain certification, but now
the wait is over. Up till now, the team has
participated in anywhere from six to a dozen
searches a year. With certification, they
expect to be doing many more.
“If you love the outdoors and working with
dogs, it’s great,” Hornicek said of his job.
“I’ve been doing this 15 years and it’s great
to get out there and be part of a team.”
Thurmont’s rescue team currently has eight
human members and three dogs with a couple
more in training. The human members of the
team are all trained and certified EMTs.
To conduct a search, teams conduct grid
searches using the air-scent tracking method.
What that means, Hornicek explains, is that
rather than hunting for an individual person,
each team hunts for any human smells at all.
Because the dogs hunt by smelling the air
rather than smelling the ground, the dogs can
also track across water as long as the person
is above the water.
Hornicek’s two-person team includes a
partner called a “walk-along,” and one
wilderness-air-scent tracking dog.
Travis Pittman is Hornicek’s team member
and walk-along. “I am the person responsible
for navigation, marking off the grid and
making sure the handler and dog are staying on
the course and covering the required area,”
Hornicek, as the dog handler, is
responsible for directing the dog in the
search, but he is trained in all the duties of
Hornicek and Pittman’s best tracker is
Sierra, a seven-year-old German Shepherd. A
noisy one-year-old black Labrador Retriever
named Bentley is currently in training for the
day when Sierra retires, Hornicek said.
When the dog locates a person during the
tracking, she returns to the handler to alert
him. She then re-locates the person, taking
the handler and walk-along with her.
To be on a tracking team, each member is
certified, which includes two field tests. The
daytime testing or “problem” requires the team
to search and locate a person covering 160
acres within six hours. The night test
requires them to cover 40 acres in two hours.
It’s working as a team with the dogs that
is one of the most-appealing things about the
work. But there is more to it, the men say.
“Nothing is the same twice. I think that is
one of the things that draws people to this,”
More search and rescue volunteers are
needed to participate. Anyone interested in
learning more about how to work with the
rescue team can contact the Thurmont Community