Hancock commissioners OK money for Lifesaver

NEW CUMBERLAND – An ongoing effort to bring Project Lifesaver to Hancock County got an overdue shot in the arm Thursday from the Hancock County Commission.

Commissioners agreed to contribute $5,000 toward the effort, which is being spearheaded by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserves. In addition, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said he will match the $2,000 already raised by the reserves with another $2,000.

Fletcher told commissioners on Thursday that it will take about $15,000 to get the program up and running in Hancock County. Some of that money will be used to subsidize families that want to participate but can’t afford to buy or maintain the necessary equipment.

“It could be quite expensive for some families,” Fletcher said.

Project Lifesaver enables local law enforcement agencies to find missing persons in a more timely manner through the use of special equipment. Hancock County Sheriff’s Sgt. Liz Calmbacher said Project Lifesaver is especially for people who wander away from home because they have autism, Alzheimer’s disease or similar cognitive conditions.

“Because time is of the essence, every minute lost increases the risk of a tragic outcome,” Calmbacher told commissioners.

Families that want to participate in Project Lifesaver must purchase a small personal transmitter, which is worn either on the wrist or the ankle. The transmitter emits a tracking signal that can be used by participating law enforcement agencies to find the missing person.

Calmbacher said the average rescue time is about 30 minutes.

Hancock County already has the equipment necessary to read the signal from the individual transmitters, Fletcher said.

That was purchased with money raised by the West Virginia Northern Autism Community of the Autism Society, said treasurer Christina Fair, of Weirton.

“We had assumed the project was further along,” Fair said, noting that the effort to bring Project Lifesaver here started under former Sheriff Mike White. “We want this here in our county. We need it.”

Fair said there are an estimated 150 children in Hancock County with some form of autism, but not all of them can wear the Project Lifesaver equipment.

“This mainly started out as an autism project, so we have to reach out to the elderly and their families,” Fair said.

Ten Hancock County sheriff’s deputies have been trained in Project Lifesaver techniques, and two have already signed up for a new class, Calmbacher said.

The cost per family is $300, plus $100 for monthly maintenance, Fletcher said.

Also Thursday, commissioners:

Approved a $100-a-month pay raise for four recording office employees in the Hancock County Clerk’s Office. County Clerk George Foley requested the raise because four people are now doing the work of five. Foley’s promotion to the position of county clerk in September left a vacancy in that department that has not been filled.

Moved Andrew Locke from a full-time dispatcher to a part-time dispatcher in the 911 Dispatch Center effective Oct. 15.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)