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Editorial: Rescue set stage for amazing 4th

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Assistant Ellsworth Fire Chief Randy Brickner giving instruction to search groups during the search for Scotty Meyer.2 / 2

Anyone not touched by the missing child drama that unfolded south of Prescott last Tuesday into Wednesday could only have a heart of stone.

Hats off to all employees of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department for a masterful job of responsiveness, coordination, crowd control and quiet professionalism. Likewise, the men and women of River Falls, Ellsworth, Prescott, Spring Valley, Elmwood, Hudson and Roberts fire- and ambulance services, and volunteers from so many other agencies who stepped forward to help.

One could sense the urgency in officers' voices late Tuesday morning when the first call for help came in from the Meyer family. All available personnel responded immediately, clearly aware of the perfect storm of scorching hot weather, a lost and vulnerable five-year-old boy and a ticking clock.

As each hour passed and more people rushed to the scene, the search appeared to scale exponentially.

While the region's media turned up the volume on the story through the afternoon and evening, the call for help was amplified through Facebook and Twitter.

Anyone with children or a pet could empathize with the sheer terror the Meyer family must have felt when Scotty first went missing. That anxiety just rose, proportion to the temperature and elapsed time since his disappearance.

Add in potential hazards of steep bluffs, speeding freight trains and the presence of the Mississippi River, and it set the stage for a sleepless night for many.

There was a nagging sense of hopelessness when darkness fell Tuesday and volunteers were ordered out of the field, but thankfully, no one quit.

One participant shared her admiration for Pierce deputies and various firefighters' calm professionalism in keeping order amidst 25 search teams comprised of up to 15 people, combing various areas of the neighborhood.

Pierce Lt. Mike Waltz, a search leader, said later that regular practice sessions held to prepare for Prairie Island nuclear plant emergencies certainly helped, but no one had much formal training in organizing a search of the scale and sheer numbers that quickly became involved last Tuesday.

Technology definitely helped, made available in part through the sheriff's department's mobile command center, GIS map resources, aircraft and heat-sensing thermal cameras, and the ability to patch all departments' communication gear onto the same channel.

There were so many departments and groups that appeared to help, Waltz said Sheriff Nancy Hove is hesitant to try and compile a list.

Among the variety of players--deputies from the Scott County, Minn., Sheriff's Department; volunteers from the Shafer-Franconia Fire Department near Taylors Falls, Minn.; and the parent of an autistic man who also became lost in Burnett County several years ago; as well as the entire third-shift of employees from the Bay City sand mine, complete with light-equipped helmets, who spent the night searching for the lost boy instead of extracting sand.

And then there were the hundreds of people who rose early on July 4th to report to Prescott High School, prepared to spend the day searching.

Then, of course, there was the unselfish participation by Jason Moser and "Autumn," the senior golden retriever. The pair served up a made-for-TV ending to what could well have been an otherwise tragic outcome. A parent himself with a child roughly Scotty's age, Moser said "we couldn't imagine losing him and would do anything for him."

As one Twin Cities reporter commented when wrapping her stand-up from outside St. Paul Children's Hospital, "It just shows the sense of community that exists among these people in Western Wisconsin..."

We've known that for a long time, but last week's action by so many unsung heroes really reaffirms it.