The Correctional Officer Search and Rescue Team saved the day recently by lending a little muscle-power to benefit an important toy drive.
Two truckloads containing cartons of 5,500 toys donated by Hasbro arrived at the Woodlawn Community Center in Pawtucket and Deborah Gardner, coordinator for the community toy drive for Blackstone Valley Community Action Program didn't have the manpower to unload the huge haul.
“Normally,” Gardner said, “my staff does the unloading, but we had some staffing issues and I was worried about how it would get done this year.”
Her husband, Correctional Officer Wayne Gardner, suggested she reach out to the COSAR team. A member himself, he and the rest of the team "were happy to help out and about two dozen COs volunteered their time this morning," said Tracey Zeckhousen, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.
The toys will be distributed to children between the ages of 1 and 12 in Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland and Lincoln. Similar distribution centers will be set up by the Cranston Community Action program, Family Resources in Woonsocket and East and West Bay, Providence and Tri-Town Community Action Programs.
According to a Department of Corrections release:
COSAR was formed by Minimum Security C.O. Mike LaPlume and is co-led by Maximum Security C.O. Stephen Aceto. LaPlume says he hasn’t seen anything like the camaraderie and support he’s witnessed since deciding to launch the volunteer team about three-and-a-half years ago. Designed to assist in woodland searches for missing or lost children, Alzheimer's patients, or even hikers and hunters who lose their way, the team is the only one of its kind in the state. It is on call 24/7. The team has recently decided to broaden its mission to assisting with community projects such as this toy distribution.
Officer LaPlume initially received 110 applications from RIDOC Correctional Officers for the then 42-person team. He made his selections based on an interview process which determined the commitment level and experience of the applicants. The team has been trained and certified by the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Association (RIEMA).
COSAR is a multi-agency group called Task Force Two (TF-2), which is led by the State Police. Each member of COSAR winds up spending up to $400 of their own money for equipment and uniforms, and Officer LaPlume is always on the lookout for grant funding to help defray these costs. The Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) helped with start-up funds.
All COSAR members must complete a 16-hour course with the RISP, offered as two eight-hour days, as well as a 16-hour land/navigation course. There are 12 drills per year and some classroom sessions.
Because of the enthusiastic initial response, Officer LaPlume has since added another 20 positions to the team. He has had medics, nurses, and EMTs volunteer for the team. Members are both female and male with the title of Captain, Lieutenant, and C.O., ranging from two years on the job to over 30.
Back in August of 2010, COSAR members, under the supervision of the State Police, were responsible for locating a missing seven-year-old boy, Alpha Bangoura, who was found unharmed near his home in Woonsocket.
Shortly after the team was formed, Director Wall wrote to Officer LaPlume, commending him for his effort and congratulating him for forming a volunteer team with a common mission. “The public spiritedness and professional manner in which the team conducts itself will reflect well on the Department of Corrections,” he wrote.