Based out of an empty building at the Norristown State Hospital, a little-known group trains twice a week in various search and rescue disciplines, honing their craft and preparing for the inevitable call that will thrust them into action. They have committed their lives to the search of others, and they live by the motto "That Others May Live."
They are the Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue group.
Providing free search and rescue services to the area for 33 years, the GPSAR consists of nearly 40 volunteers who are highly trained and capable of executing a variety or search and rescue tactics. The groups also boasts a large group of trained canines which aid in the searches.
When Janice Rubendall – who served with the United States Marine Corps in Iraq –went in January, the canine units from the GPSAR identified the Betzwood Bridge as a place of interest. Weeks later, .
"Our cadaver dogs were on the boat when they hit under the bridge," said Jen Christian, a lieutenant with the GPSAR. "We had three different dogs, and we went by several times, and they all focused on that one area."
While the dogs did pinpoint the location, Mark Hopkins, a chief with the GPSAR, cautions that they weren't the ones who actually retrieved the body.
"I wouldn't say that we found her," said Hopkins. "The dogs hit on the area that was consistent with where she was found. The divers didn't go into the water at that time, but she was subsequently found in a location where the current would have pushed her."
Credit aside, the Rubendall search showcased just how accurate the GPSAR canine teams can be, which comes at the expense of hours and hours of training each week.
The GPSAR is capable of providing location services from Catawissa, Pennsylvania, to Cape May, New Jersey, and since the operate as a non-profit organization, the group relies on private donations and their own personal money to fund the searches and purchase equipment.
"We make do with whatever we have," said Christian. "We're not extravagant."
Christian added that the group provides the services free of charge, and that while averaging around 30 searches annually, the actual amount differs wildly from year to year.
"I've been on the team where we've had no searches for an entire year, but I've also been there when we had three in one week," said Christian.
For more information on the GPSAR, visit their website at www.gpsar.org, where you can readily find information on the types of searches they provide, as well as training information and other documentation.