Fire chief provides summary regarding nine day search for a missing child

The new West Perth Fire Station in Mitchell, located at 170 Wellington Street. (Courtesy of the Municipality of West Perth)

West Perth-Perth East Fire Chief, Bill Hunter, gave West Perth council a full breakdown of the recent nine day search for a missing child.

A 10-year-old Mitchell girl went missing in the Whirl Creek area near Mitchell on March 5th, and an extensive search effort commenced over the following nine days. The search ended on Monday, March 14th when the body of the missing child was located.

Chief Hunter says a massive amount of time and resources were were used after the call came in, including help from the OPP.

“Just if you look at the resources the OPP brought to the table, just fantastic support from them. Helicopters, their canine emergency response team, the underwater search and recovery team, and all the on the ground officers, we had a lot of help.”

Ten different fire departments assisted with the search, and Chief Hunter says the efforts from all of them and a volunteer group contributed to the search efforts that extended as far as 25 km down the Thames River to the town of St. Marys.

“West Perth firefighters, plus all the mutual aid firefighters and the Huron Area Search and Rescue Group volunteered their time to help us. So there was quite the amount of resources put to work for those nine days.”

With so many boots on the ground required for the search efforts, Chief Hunter says they’re thankful to everyone who gave time toward the search.

“We wouldn’t have been able to commit the number of West Perth firefighters to the search that we did, without knowing that our neighbouring fire departments had our back and were protecting the remainder of the municipality while we were searching.”

The response from the community, Chief Hunter notes, was heartening, with many people offering meals and other supplies to the search crews. The search team requested the public stay away from the search area for the duration of the efforts, and the public abided by that. Hunter adds that the firefighting community at large is so tight knit, which was on full display with departments from far away offering assistance.

“We had a department from Ohio offer to send a crew up. Just a very. very warm feeling knowing that you have all those fire departments out there looking out for you.”

In the presentation to council this week, Chief Hunter made note of the fact that these types of calls are incredibly difficult on all the emergency responders, and there are supports already in place for everyone involved to deal with an incredibly difficult time for the crews, the community, and the family.

“There was that feeling that we did what we set out to do for the firefighters, but very physically and emotionally draining. We keep the family in our thoughts and we just can’t imagine what they’re going through. All around, it’s just been a very trying experience.”

During the search period, members of the public decorated a nearby bridge with stuffed animals, pink ribbons, and different mementos and messages of support for the family and the crews.