Morris County Sheriff’s Officers and Park Police Partner On “Lost Hiker” Search and Rescue Training Exercise

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office partnered with the Morris County Park Police on a search and rescue training mission Wednesday, June 26, that centered on finding a fictitious 23-year-old man who went missing in the woods of Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.

Morris County Sheriff and Morris County Park Police prepare to search for a fictitious lost hiker during a training exercise on June 26 at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.
Morris County Sheriff and Morris County Park Police prepare to search for a fictitious lost hiker during a training exercise on June 26 at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.

The joint training exercise, organized by Sheriff’s Office Detective Lieutenant Mark Chiarolanza and Park Police Lieutenant Chris List, brought together seasoned and less experienced officers from both agencies to strategize on the most efficient ways of finding the lost subject.

The venue was a section of the 3,200-acre Mahlon Dickerson Reservation off Weldon Road that formerly was a ski area known as Snow Bowl but now is used for remote-controlled car racing, hiking and picnicking.

Morris County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit Detective Marc Adamsky, with K-9 Tim, tries to track a fictitious lost hiker during a training exercise June 26 at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.
Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit Detective Marc Adamsky, with K-9 Tim, tries to track a fictitious lost hiker during a training exercise June 26 at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.

Superior officers from both departments brought skills to the training that they imparted to newer officers, who were challenged to study topography maps, familiarize themselves with equipment and all-terrain vehicles, and decide logical next steps in the search and any additional assets they needed.

A clothed mannequin serving as the lost hiker ultimately was found by Officers – including Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Detectives Mike Carbone and Marc Adamsky – who rode ATVs over washed-out trails to a fire tower situated in the Bowling Green Mountain portion of the reservation.

Morris County Sheriff's Office Detective Lieutenant Kelley Zienowicz, center, during a simulated search and rescue of a hiker conducted jointly by the Morris County Sheriff's Office and Park Police at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.
Morris County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lieutenant Kelley Zienowicz, center, during a simulated search and rescue of a hiker conducted jointly by the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and Park Police at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.

The series of events that led to the lost hiker’s rescue and transport back to his vehicle in a Stokes Basket was a collaboration of the partners who created scenarios about the missing hiker that led to solid plans on how best to find him.

“With more than 18,000 acres of parkland in Morris County, the training was an intelligent and dynamic exercise in how agencies can share information and skills to carry out a successful search and rescue if called upon,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon said.

From left, Morris County Sheriff's Officers Frank Pirog and Travis Somerville, with Sheriff's Office Sergeant John Rospond, discuss strategy in a mobile command vehicle during a training exercise to find a fictitious lost hiker at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.
From left, Morris County Sheriff’s Officers Frank Pirog and Travis Somerville, with Sheriff’s Office Sergeant John Rospond, discuss strategy in a mobile command vehicle during a training exercise to find a fictitious lost hiker at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township.

The simulated search and rescue began with Park Police Officers Christian DiGiralomo and Anthony Brunone checking the ownership of a Dodge Durango parked overnight by an entrance to the reservation. The officers held a mock conversation with the vehicle owner, who stated his son, who drove the Durango, hadn’t been seen or heard from since the previous day.

As the simulation evolved, Officers had a phone company try to track the hiker’s cellular phone but calls went straight to voice mail and its location couldn’t be determined.

Officers then requested a Sheriff’s Office K-9 team, who could not track the hiker from his SUV into the woods. After learning through simulated calls that the hiker was depressed in the past week, the search and rescue mission became urgent.

A fictitious lost hiker, bundled into a Stokes basket, was found unhurt at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township during a search and rescue training exercise jointly held by the Morris County Sheriff's Office and Morris County Park Police.
A fictitious lost hiker, bundled into a Stokes basket, was found unhurt at Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in Jefferson Township during a search and rescue training exercise jointly held by the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and Morris County Park Police.

The Sheriff’s Office Mobile Command Unit, driven by Sheriff’s Office Corporal Jamie Rae, was brought to the scene. Sheriff’s Office Sergeant John Rospond and Park Police Sergeant Robert Kranz checked SARTopo, computerized back-country maps, to get insight into the immediate area and mark off areas that had been searched by the ATV riders with negative results.

During one trip the ATV riders took on trails to the area of the fire tower, Sergeant Kranz in the command unit received their two-way radio call that the hiker was found, conscious and unhurt.

The group afterwards reviewed their entire response to the exercise, with Sheriff’s Office Detective Lieutenant Kelley Zienowicz explaining protocol to follow had the hiker been found deceased, and the importance of proper collection and identification of evidence found at and around the scene.