The nonprofit South Carolina Foothills Search and Rescue is based in Simpsonville and supports law enforcement and rescue agencies in search and rescue missions, including specialized K-9 rescue and recovery units.
Jamie Wannemacher, 35, is the assistant chief and has been assisting with rescues for more than 10 years. It’s a volunteer position. Wannemacher is the manager of Astro Kennels when not working with Foothills.
How did you get involved with Foothills Search and Rescue?
My parents were actually involved, they were some of the first members of Foothills. That was when I was in college and so I would come home on the weekends and I would help volunteer and kind of learn the basics of what it was all about. And then, after I graduated from college, I really enjoyed doing it so I kept going and then eventually got my own dog. Now I’m the assistant chief.
What’s an average day like?
Foothills Search & Rescue is on-call 24/7/365. We try to respond immediately when called [by law enforcement].
Sometimes we go out and we find the missing person within five minutes. We’ve been out five or six times for the same person throughout a year — sometimes there’s just not enough clues to get us in the right direction. Sometimes we’re really busy with searches. Sometimes, like last week, we had eight searches in one week. Then sometimes we could go for a week with not having anything.
But, regardless, every handler is supposed to train, at minimum, 16 hours a month. So, we have team training where the whole team trains together, and then we all kind of train on our own as well. We have a list of about 15 classes handlers have to take before they can join the team.
We have two main categories of our dogs. We have live find dogs and then we have recovery dogs, also called human remains detection dogs or cadaver dogs. Most agencies have their own live find dogs. Our recovery dogs get utilized a lot more because most agencies don’t have their own.
Sometimes it’s criminals [we’re searching for] but sometimes it’s somebody with dementia. We have to do reports for each search and keep things like insurance, etc. as any 501(c)(3) would have to do.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
We search everything from the mountains to the beaches, and all in-between, and with seasonal difficulties. In South Carolina, it’s 100 degrees, and we have to be prepared to go out there all day. We have to make sure our dogs stay healthy and to make sure we stay healthy. We would never want one of our searchers to get injured or lost so we have to make sure that we’re prepared for whatever situation we’re about to go into.
What’s your most memorable search?
It was probably when my live find dog found a 79-year-old man who had been hiking. He got turned around and we found him hanging upside down by one leg. He was okay; he survived. But if my dog had not found him, that man never would have been found alive. He was already in pretty rough shape by the time we got to him. But then, a couple of months later we got to go out to dinner with him and his wife and his wife sent us pictures of him at Christmas with his grandkids.
How do you keep from burning out?
I think you just look at it as the greater good, and you can help give the families a little bit of closure. You got to just keep your mind on what you’re doing and why and no matter the outcome, just knowing that you’re going to help either bring justice to someone or help someone bring their loved one home.
Interested in volunteering with South Carolina Foothills Search and Rescue? Visit https://www.foothillssar.com/ for more information.
A Day in the Life is an occasional series profiling the people in our community doing the ordinary – and extraordinary – jobs that need doing. Whose life should we get to know next? Email suggestions to Sherry.