Jeepers Back the Blue in Volusia County

The Volusia County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office’s Jeep unit includes 18 volunteers, all highly trained and certified to assist in search-and-rescue and recovery efforts. Jeepin’ Central Florida met with the unit’s commander, Lt. Don Taylor, to learn more about his off-road squad.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in law enforcement? 

I served in the U.S. Coast Guard from October 1990 through January 1996. It was during my service as a boarding officer in the USCG where I found my calling. My last station was Tybee Island in Georgia. I moved my family back to Volusia County, where my wife was born and raised.

In January 1996, I enrolled in the Basic Law Enforcement Academy at Daytona State College. Once I completed BLE, I applied for a deputy position at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. In September, I was hired and began training. My first assignment was in the civil section in Daytona, serving nonenforceable process. After a short time, I was offered another position serving enforceable process out of the DeLand office.

Two years later, I transferred to patrol and learned how to be a deputy. I applied to be a field training officer and trained new deputies. I was promoted to sergeant in October 2002. I was assigned to patrol and, the following year, I transferred to investigations. I returned to patrol a year later and, in 2006, I transferred to the civil section. In January 2011, I was promoted to lieutenant and have served as the assistant commander for communications for Districts 2, 3 and 4, and in my current assignment at special operations. 

What is your mission, and how does the Jeep group support it? 

The Volunteer Jeep Unit provides the sheriff’s office with specialized equipment and volunteers to assist with search-and-rescue and recovery efforts in areas not easily accessible by patrol vehicles. 

What is your area of operation? 

My current position as the assistant commander for special operations covers the entire county. The units assigned to my area of responsibility include aviation, marine, dive, range, airport security, crime prevention, school resource deputies, the Citizens Observation Program, Citizens Volunteer Auxiliary Program and Chaplain Program, and the Volunteer Jeep Unit. 

How many members did you start with, and how many do you have now? 

The initial group of Jeep volunteers started with 16 members. We have 18 members now, with several more applications being processed.

How is the group structured?

Sgt. Omar McKnight coordinates with the Jeep unit coordinator to plan for training and meetings. The Volunteer Jeep Unit’s training coordinator is a certified 4×4 off-road instructor along with many other certifications. There are two teams, Gold and Green (the sheriff’s office colors), and each team has a team leader and an assistant team leader who communicate instructions with the members assigned to their team.

Do you need more members? What qualifications, screening and training are required to join? 

We are always looking for more volunteers to join our Jeep unit. Each volunteer is required to have an off-road-capable Jeep to join. Candidates must complete a volunteer application, pass a background check, have none of the automatic disqualifiers such as previous felony convictions, excessive traffic violations in the last three years, or the sale of illegal drugs. The following are qualifications to become a member:

  • Be a minimum of 18 years old.
  • Possess a valid Florida driver’s License.
  • Own a Jeep Wrangler (or similar Jeep style) to allow for off-road navigation.
  • Have the desire to be a team member to assist with office work or search and rescue.
  • Possess valid vehicle insurance, including a declaration page and proof of liability and personal injury insurance coverage.
  • Pass a background investigation.
  • Successfully complete all training provided with a passing score.
  • Complete the volunteer waiver of liability form.
  • Successfully complete six months as a probationary member.

In order to successfully complete the probationary period, each member must attend the basic agency training class, at least four of six monthly meetings and training sessions, and online Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Each volunteer must complete Incident Command School (ICS) 100, 200, 700 and 800 and classroom CERT courses within the first 12 months to continue as a volunteer. In order to be eligible to assist in search-and-rescue and recovery operations, volunteers also must be certified in first aid and CPR and train in crime scene procedures, search patterns and person-tracking techniques with an agency instructor.

What types of calls do members of the Jeep group answer? 

The Jeep unit is available to respond and assist with search-and-rescue and recovery operations as needed, including missing persons or downed aircrafts located in areas not easily accessible to non-off-road vehicles. The Jeep unit also participates in parades and other community events. For instance, the unit participated in the University High School homecoming parade by escorting the homecoming court.

What work has the Jeep group done that you are most proud of? 

The Jeep unit eight Jeeps that participated in the National Night Out event on Oct. 3. The attendees were extremely interested in how the sheriff’s office is working with citizens, such as the Jeep unit volunteers to increase our capabilities through means other than increasing the bottom line. 

Do you work with other agencies and Jeep groups? 

On Jan. 15, Corp. Arthur Madden led a convoy of 14 members of the Pasco Sheriff Volunteer Jeep Search and Rescue Unit to assist in the search for an elderly man who went missing. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Sheriff Michael J. Chitwood and I attended the “Jeep Beach” picnic in Daytona Beach, and we instantly noticed the passion so many in attendance had for serving their community. The sheriff was convinced we needed to start a volunteer Jeep unit. Corp. Madden was instrumental with providing assistance to start the Jeep unit.

The coordinator, Jeoff Freed, is a Jeep enthusiast and was instrumental in recruiting volunteers for the Jeep unit. Jeoff has worked diligently on getting all the volunteers to complete their training and creating a Facebook page for the unit. In the short time I have spent working with the Jeep unit volunteers, I have learned they are one big family and they want to help make their community a better place.

Nuts and Bolts

Lt. Don Taylor is assistant commander of special operations for the Volusia County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. Among other duties, he leads his department’s 18-member Volunteer Jeep Unit, which is trained and certified to assist in search-and-rescue and recovery efforts.

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