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Project Lifesaver provides training, equipment to find people with disorders such as Alzheimer's, dementia

| Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, 6:44 p.m.

LANCASTER — A 76-year-old Mountville man wandered away from home in 2006 during the frigid days of February.

Two weeks later, the man's body was found near the railroad tracks in West Hempfield Township.

“He froze to death,” said West Hempfield Township police Chief Mark Pugliese, whose department had appealed for help in trying to find the man.

West Hempfield now is one of seven police departments participating in a new program aimed at quickly finding missing people.

Officers from the departments in the county's northwestern corner have received training from Project Lifesaver, a missing person locator program being funded here in part by a local service club.

Based in Florida, Project Lifesaver is a charitable organization that provides training and equipment to find people with cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia and autism.

People enrolled in Project Lifesaver are outfitted with a personal transmitter bracelet that is placed on their wrist or ankle. The bracelet emits a tracking signal that emergency workers can use to find the person if he or she wanders away or goes missing.

The Pilot Club of Lancaster is helping to bring the program to Lancaster County.

With the help of a $5,000 bequest and a lot of fundraising, the 30-person club is providing more than $10,000 to kick-start the program here by providing equipment and training, said Cathy Cieslinski, a club member.

“We feel it could make a difference in families' and caregivers' lives,” she said.

The cost of outfitting a person with the tracking bracelet and batteries is about $300 and covers them for a year.

After that, the fee is about $10 a month. The club will work to help families who cannot afford the service, she said.

About 10 local families already have expressed interest in the program, Cieslinski said.

West Hempfield is acting as the host agency for the program. Also participating are the Columbia, Susquehanna Regional, Elizabethtown, Northwest Regional, Mt. Joy and Manheim police departments.

Manheim police also have searched for a missing man with heartbreaking results.

In 2009, borough police, rescue workers, tracking dogs and the man's family spent days searching for an 80-year-old who disappeared just two days before Christmas.

The man was found a week later, more than three miles from his home. He also froze to death.

“If we could have gotten him in a program like this, we probably would have found him in the next 15 to 20 minutes,” Stauffer said.

Project Lifesaver said recovery times for its clients average 30 minutes.

Elizabethtown police Chief Jack Mentzer said the northwestern departments will work together in the program, which organizers hope to expand to the entire county.

“This could really make a difference in someone's life,” Mentzer said. “This kind of thing doesn't happen often but, when it does, it truly is a matter of life or death.”

A personal care home in Mountville is interested in learning more about the program.

Faith Friendship Ministries is a 74-bed home that houses people with chronic mental-health issues. Its clients are free to come and go, but sometimes they are not thinking clearly, executive director Steve Dietch said.

One client left the home because she was suffering delusions that someone was waiting for her up the street.

Faith Friendship has had a locator system or alarm system on its wish list for some time.

“Just knowing the local police are going to have one more tool to find people — it lets us know we don't have to do it all by ourselves,” Dietch said.

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