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Student group aids Graham search effort

Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group on call for searches 24/7

The Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group coordinated volunteer efforts last week in the city-wide search for missing second-year College student Hannah Graham, who was last seen early in the morning Sept. 13. More than a week later, members of the Contracted Independent Organization continue to help police search for Graham.

Members could not comment about details of the Graham search, but fourth-year College student Natalie Johnson, a member of the group's board of directors, said the University community's response was impressive.

“I guess I’m just very grateful to live in a community where we’ve had such a response,” Johnson said about the number of students and local residents who helped with the search for Graham.

BRMRG is affiliated with the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference, and consists of about 40 students trained to provide various emergency services, including public assistance during search and rescue emergencies and disasters, emergency medical services, personal safety education and preventative search and rescue education.

“We can get called out to pretty much anything,” said BRMRG Chair Aaron Bentley, a fourth-year College student.

Bentley, a former Boy Scout who learned about BRMRG through a health and safety group in high school, said the volume of work has dramatically increased in the past month.

“We’ve been on either 12 or 13 calls in the last 30 days or so,” Bentley said. “But sometimes, you could go six months and not have a single call.”

Johnson said searches typically range from bringing home wandering dementia patients to finding lost children.

Engineering graduate student Greg Stronko, BRMRG’s training officer, said most members train to become certified under two standards — those of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and of ASARC. There are various levels of certification, and each can be reached after a certain amount of training.

“You can actually hinder [the search if you're untrained],” Stronko said. “So we teach how to aid the best we can.”

Stronko said BRMRG officers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that VDEM pages their cell phones.

BRMRG offers trainings twice a week. One training is a lecture and one involves outdoors application, including land navigation, packaging a patient and semi-technical rescue. The group also participates in additional training, including the two-weekend Ground Search and Rescue College run by the state.