Patalano retiring from Project Lifesaver

PARKERKSBURG – Sue Patalano, who has served as administrator for Wood County Project Lifesaver since its inception in 2005, is planning to retire by the end of the year.

Patalano also serves as state coordinator for Project Lifesaver.

“We first brought the project to the county’s attention back in March of 2005. We had training in June and opened it to clients in October. We now have 40 clients signed on the program. We’ve had as many as 50. There have been a a total of 218 enrolled since the project began,” Patalano said. Wood County was the first in the state to adopt the program.

The nonprofit Project Lifesaver assists families and caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s, Autism, Down Syndrome, stroke, traumatic brain injury and other cognitive disabilities who are prone to wander. Through a radio transmitter attached as a bracelet on the client and with the use of tracking equipment, trained law enforcement Project Lifesaver search and rescue teams can track individuals on the ground, from the air, underwater or even underground. This method saves time in rescue/search operations, the average rescue time is usually under 30 mintues with no deaths or serious injuries. It has been used successfully in 40 operations so far in the state.

“We just finished training in Morgan County and that became the 40th county. In July, I have Mineral County scheduled, and I have enough funds to do one more county. We are trying to get Hampshire on board,” Patalano said.

Wood County Seriff’s Deputy Sheriff Brian Swiger will be taking over as the sheriff’s department liaison for the program after Patalano retires.

“Sue is the heart and soul of this program and that’s the truth of the matter. She will most certainly be missed. We’re going to try and talk her into staying around a little longer,” Swiger said.

Swiger was trained in search and rescue on the ground and he is certified in the air as well. He is doing an apprenticeship with Patalano to become an instructor.

“Brian is my back-up when I’m not here, and the goal is to have him take over the program when I retire as part of his deputy duties, with someone coming in to handle the administrative end,” Patalano said.

“Brian volunteered to take the training. He was enthusiast. He is compassionate and caring for these individuals, and he realizes what a responsibility it is to run this program,” Patalano said.

Patalano said she has stayed with the program over the years because of the appreciation of the caregivers.

“You can see them relax a little when they realize there is someone else out there watching over their loved one. Another reason I stayed was watching these tough cops who are sent to the training become really enthusiastic about this program and then watching them work as a team has been very rewarding,” Patalano said.

She said the program has also enabled her to raise awareness both for the officers and the clients.

“Getting law enforcement to see people with disabilities in a different light and getting people with disabilities to see law enforcement in a different light has been a real positive. Most of the time the only contact the officers might have had with individuals with disabilities is through the mental hygiene process,” Patalano said. “I have incorporated some People First training as part of the program.”

Swiger, who has been a deputy for the last 3 1/2 years, said he’s looking forward to working with the project.

“I’m excited to be able to help people; it’s work that needs to be done,” he said.

Patalano noted Swiger has already instituted some positive changes for the program.

“By using an in-house InSync Program, we are now able to disseminate a photograph to deputies when there is a search on for a Project Lifesaver client. They may not be directly involved with the search, but they would have the information available to them in case they might see the individual,” Swiger said.

“Brian also suggested pulling in some core members of the area volunteer fire departments to get them trained in helping with the search and rescue operations. If we can get additional equipment, they might also be able to assist with the needed battery changes that have been done on the clients’ equipment,” Patalano said.

Swiger noted the firefighters, who are distinctly familiar with their territories and the terrain in their part of the county, would be an invalueable resource in the field.

“We have clients all over the county so having the firefighters from all over the county would be a real asset,” Patalano said.

Some battery changes are done now by personnel at Parkersburg Fire Department Station 1. Patalano said volunteers through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program who are reserve deputies assist with changing batteries in some homes of clients.

Project Lifesaver operates on contributions, donations and a grant from the Raese family which provided some funding that could be used to purchase additional equipment for new counties coming on the program.

“For $300 we can purchase a transmitter, battery tester and a year’s supply of batteries, we are always trying to raise funds,” Patalano said.

Patalano is also available to speak to groups or organizations interested in learning more about the project. For more information on the program go to www.projectlifesaverwv.com, or call Patalano at the sheriff’s office, 304-424-1769 or 304-424-1835.