BOARDMAN - Someone was dead in the Potlatch forest.
That was the premise behind a drill that saw eight dogs, their handlers and the dog program coordinator from Yamhill County team up with Eastern Oregon Search and Rescue volunteers this past weekend to sniff out clues.
Dogs, handlers and Search and Rescue workers from Morrow, Umatilla and Union counties combed the poplars as they trained. The drill is the first in what organizers plan on annual training sessions.
"These dogs find people who are not alive," Lt. Bob Hensel said.
A variety of items are used for the dogs to track, including soil that has been taken from where a dead body was really found and decaying, bloody materials donated by hospitals.
On Sunday, the dogs roamed the woods sniffing for the right leaves in a forest full of foliage. Earlier a bag of leaves had been placed in a container that holds the other fecund items, and then those leaves were distributed for the dogs to find.
The dogs successfully found the leaves.
Hensel said that, while no cadaver dogs are owned by Search and Rescue, they can be called out.
"If a hunter comes out of the woods saying he accidentally shot his buddy, but he can't remember where, we could call and ask for these dogs," he said.
Knowing they were heading for the forest, the dogs' handlers trained them for around 40 hours to acclimate them before heading for Boardman, Hensel said. Even though the poplars at Potlatch are neatly planted in rows, they go on for miles.
"It's amazing," Hensel said. "You do lose track of where it's at. There's one dead end road in this whole place, and of course, I found it."
More than 40 people were out searching those ripe leaves Sunday in an area one mile deep by two miles wide, Hensel said. The exercise went smoothly, with Boardman Fire Department's new mobile communications center getting its first practice in the field.
The vehicle, paid for by CSEPP, was built by the fire department and was operated by Fire Chief Marc Rogelstad.
"This is the shakedown for it," Rogelstad said of the truck. "We're finding some bugs, and we'll get them worked out. We've accomplished quite a bit so far."
Among the bugs that were uncovered in the high-tech truck were the radio interference that can result if it is parked too close to metal buildings or communications towers.
The truck, which Rogelstad said cost considerably less to build than the $500,000 ready-built vehicles on the market, said the Boardman Fire Department owns and manages the vehicle, but it exists to serve in numerous situations.
"It's a CSEPP asset, so it's about helping Morrow and Umatilla counties," Rogelstad said, adding that he's working to make the truck available to the state during the upcoming fire season if it's needed.
By touch-screen, Rogelstad can link a variety of radios to each other, enabling communications.
In the command center are radios designed to receive every safety band in the state of Oregon. With the cross-band repeater he can link radios that normally couldn't contact each other, like his area's 450 trunk radio and the less sophisticated VHF and UHF radios used in other areas. The truck even contains a ham radio.
In addition, the vehicle has a generator that can provide power to operations and an exterior lighting system that can supply enough illumination to light up a football field, Rogelstad said.
The training session was coordinated by Adam Bredfield for Morrow County, Jan Good for Umatilla County and Ron Wellman from Yamhill County.