On Thursday afternoon, firefighters from the Daviess County Airport and East County Fire Department practiced tracking a missing person across the city using a system to search for people with cognitive disabilities.
The system, Project Lifesaver, uses a radio frequency to track people wearing a wristband. The idea behind the technology is that if a person with a cognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s is lost, rescuers can find him or her much faster than if they just had to search based on a physical description and possible locations.
The system worked quickly at Thursday’s drill, with firefighters locating a volunteer with a tracking bracelet in Legion Park within 33 minutes.
“For me, anything under an hour is extraordinary,” Keith Hurm, the county fire department’s fire inspector, said after Thursday’s drill.
Project Lifesaver is a non-profit organization that has developed tracking systems designed for people with cognitive disorders that can cause them to leave home and get lost.
Hurm said there was a need to quickly locate people with cognitive disorders.
“With anything medical, there’s a ‘golden hour'” for getting help, Hurm said.
But people with cognitive disorders are particularly at risk when they get lost because they may be unaware of traffic or other hazards, he said.
“Autistic children are not afraid of water” and will walk straight into a lake or body of water, Hurm said.
A person with Alzheimer’s or dementia will walk until they get to the first obstacle, stop and stay there, which poses a risk of exposure to the elements.
The radio system has a range of about five miles when firefighters are tracking from their vehicles and a shorter range when they are on foot.
According to Hurm, firefighters start at the person’s home, take signal measurements, and follow up as signal strength increases.
The system is available through the district fire brigade for families with an eligible family member.
The cost is $45 every three months, although the fire department was able to give the system to families who couldn’t pay for free, Hurm said.
To enroll a family member in the system, call Hurm at 270-685-8440.
“It has to be a family decision,” he says.
Although the system has been available through the county’s fire department for years, firefighters have not yet had to use it to locate a missing person, Hurm said.