SPRING VALLEY — A new non-profit organization will be stationed in Spring Valley to help in search and rescue efforts in the wake of natural and manmade disasters.
The Disaster Dogs of Illinois (DDI) — Urban Search & Rescue is developing K-9 and handler crews for disaster team deployment for assisting with trapped, missing or buried victims, as a result of tornadoes, earthquakes, burning structures or building collapses.
By using their smell and sight, the K-9s can be trained to quickly cover ground and fit through tight spaces in search of human remains and live find. Originally formed as a task force in the northern portion of Illinois, DDI was established as a central Illinois task force in March in Spring Valley. A southern Illinois task force is currently in the works. DDI has become a member of the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR).
Spring Valley firefighter Jason Schweickert, who has also worked as an EMT in Spring Valley, is the person responsible for bringing together the central team.
“I’ve always had the interest to get my dogs involved in search and rescue, but when I called around I couldn’t seem to get anywhere,” he explained.
That was until Schweickert found DDI operations director Bill Miller, who was looking to form additional forces in various parts of the state.
Schweickert said he jumped on the opportunity and has since brought together two additional handlers, Tom Lawse and Jesse Lucas, and K-9 trainer Geno Bahde. K-9 Whiskey, a 4-month-old German Shepard, has been assigned to Lucas and is currently under going training. K-9 Harley, a Golden Retriever, has been assigned to Schweickert. Spring Valley resident Joann Jesse is treasurer for the DDI board of directors.
Currently, the team is working on its short-term goal, which is to have two fully trained, certified, equipped and deployable K-9 handlers teams. The team is also working to recruit a third K-9, who will be assigned to Lawse.
It’s likely that people have seen the handlers out and about with their K-9s, as a common place they like to train is at local playgrounds.
While they train K-9s in all types of environments, playgrounds work great, because things like the slides, crawling through the “hamster tubes” and walking on stepping stones, simulates obstacles in disaster settings, Jesse said.
“To them they think it’s a game,” Schweickert said. “It’s what they enjoy.”
Another focus for the central task force is raising enough funds to buy the official uniforms and handler gear.
Jesse explained it’s a great expense to have all members trained and clothed.
“Just to get them clothed and with the proper equipment, we’re looking at about $860 for everything they need, both dog and handler,” she explained.
To help with expenses and also to raise public awareness and gain community support, the force is looking to host fundraisers throughout the year.
“Right now it’s about building relationships with the right people and finding that right drive, motivation and interest,” Jesse said.
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