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Georgia Knutsen, dressed in her Plumas County Search and Rescue gear, gives a presentation to local children on the tools they can use to survive getting lost, with all pointing thumbs downward to indicate that they understand the important rule of staying put, and not running in panic. Photos by Lauren Westmoreland

Hug a tree to survive gets through to kids a library program

The Portola Branch Library hosted a life-saving event for community children July 30, with Georgia Knutsen of Pumas County Search and Rescue and members of the Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District coming together to share.

Knutsen kicked off the event with an introduction about herself, although her four-legged Search and Rescue partner was unable to attend. “My dog and I work together to find missing people for Plumas County Search and Rescue,” Knutsen explained to the room.

Knutsen explained that she was there to share the “Hug a Tree and Survive” program with the children, playing a video for the room that gave the scenario of a lost child, and the proper steps to take as a lost child.

“Now, before you leave home, or before you go exploring, it’s best to tell an adult where you are going,” Knutsen said. “If you do get lost, though, I want you to remember that panicking and running is the worst thing you can do.”

After watching the video, Knutsen answered questions from the kids, highlighting the things to do that ensure a lost child will get found. “The first thing you want to do is hug a tree and stay put,” Knutsen emphasized.

Knutsen went on to explain that it’s best if children wear brightly colored clothing when going out to play, as this can assist in creating visibility.

“When Search and Rescue is out looking for you, we will be very loud,” Knutsen said with a smile. “There will be people yelling your name, and blowing whistles loudly, but don’t be afraid. Nobody will be angry with you for being lost, they will just be glad to see you when they find you. It will also help if you call back when you hear us calling your name.”

Knutsen explained that it is wise to bring a backpack with a jacket, water, a whistle and a thermal emergency blanket on adventures, as these can all assist in survival, and can help with the rescue process.

“You can blow three blasts in a row on the whistle, which means SOS, and then pause to listen for us whistling back,” Knutsen said. “A whistle is easier to use than your voice when you are low on energy, and very loud! You could also use your whistle to warn off small animals that might be in the forest.”

Knutsen handed out a plastic whistle to each child, along with a thermal blanket neatly folded into a small square to carry in the future. “The thermal blanket is really helpful,” Knutsen explained. “You would want to wrap up in it to contain your body heat and keep you warm and dry next to your tree, and it will also be visible to searchers.”

One of the children demonstrated the use of the blanket, wrapping up into a metallic ball and quickly discovering how warm he was from the deceptively thin material. “This stuff is pretty durable and really works,” Knutsen said to one parent who inquired about the blankets and their durability.

Knutsen explained other tips, such as forming an arrow out of rocks to point towards the tree the child has chosen to stay under, and showed the kids her Search and Rescue gear, explaining that she had a GPS to help her find people as quickly as possible, along with the assistance of her dog.

“It’s very easy to get lost,” Knutsen emphasized. “Even adults get lost all of the time, and if you don’t stand still, it makes it harder for us to find you.”

With the kids enthusiastic about their newly acquired knowledge and gear, the group moved outside to tour multiple engines brought over by EPRFPD.

Chief Bob Frank greeted the children, along with Sparky the Fire Dog, Pete Sears and Leah Turner of EPRFPD. “Tinkerbell the ‘Dalmatian’ is also here today with her spotted shirt,” Frank laughed as Tinkerbell greeted the children with a polite tail wag.

Frank went on to introduce the multiple engines to the group, explaining the different types of uses for each truck, and answered many questions about tools, fire hoses and every aspect of being a firefighter.

As kids asked questions, they toured the engines, sitting inside the ladder truck with smiles on every face. After satisfying curious questions, the department handed out activity books for the kids, leaving attendees with tools and knowledge to take home and, should it ever be needed, put to use.

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