BELMAR, NJ — After Fran Hines of Monmouth County’s Project Lifesaver program visited a Middletown family to bring a radio transmitter to an elderly relative with dementia, he didn’t expect to be returning to their home just hours later.
At about 7 p.m. on August 16, Hines received a call that the 69-year-old man had gone missing while on a walk. Immediately, Project Lifesaver’s protocol went into effect. Hines responded to the home, along with several Middletown police officers.
Using handheld devices that emit radio signals, they began to see if they could track the missing man through the unique frequency on his newly acquired wristband transmitter.
“We started where he was last seen and begin circling (the area) using our devices until we got a hit,” said Hines of Belmar. “Everyone was getting nervous because it was about 9 p.m. and getting dark.”
But it wasn’t long before Hines and his team located the missing man — several miles away, with no shoes on, within 90 minutes of Project Lifesaver’s activation.
“He’s a delightful guy. He was there … just smiling,” Hines said. “We brought him home. Everyone was so grateful.”
In his role as autism outreach coordinator for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, Hines is responsible for interviewing individuals who are joining Project Lifesaver, which uses radio signals to track people with Alzheimer’s disease and autism when they wander and become missing.
“With this individual, the program worked just the way it is supposed to,” said Hines, who also serves as said EMT director for the Belmar First Aid Squad. “Although we have done very few (rescues), all our missions in finding individuals have been successful.”
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden called Project Lifesaver “a lifesaving tool for families who have loved ones with a condition or illness that causes them to wander,” said. “It can benefit them greatly by the safety and security provided through participation in the program.”
Since the Project Lifesaver’s implementation in 2003, Monmouth County has had 10 rescues of individuals who have wandered. Currently, there are 168 enrolled individuals, including the 119 juveniles and 49 adults.
Should the client become missing, the sheriff’s office has 10 receivers with which to track the missing individual wearing a transmitter. The range for the radio receiver is one mile on the ground, one quarter mile when roof mounted and five to seven miles in a helicopter.
Based in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Project Lifesaver is a national nonprofit organization that provides law enforcement, fire/rescue, and caregivers with a program designed to protect and quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders who are prone to the life-threatening behavior of wandering. In the past 18 years, the program has been responsible for nearly 3,500 rescues.
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