Home News Michael Voccola: All hail DEM, GPS and cellphones

Michael Voccola: All hail DEM, GPS and cellphones

On a recent Sunday, my son Michael, 12, wanted to mountain bike on the trails of Rhode Island’s Arcadia Management Area. Since he had experience, and estimating his time on the trail to be about two hours, I agreed. On the Sunday at issue here, Michael prepared his bike and gear, including his cell phone and a hand-held GPS device. We mounted his bike on the car, and off to Arcadia we went.

We arrived at the state Department of Environmental Management’s Forestry Headquarters on Arcadia Road. Michael had bottled water, a flashlight, helmet and gloves, suitable footwear, protective glasses, the correct bike and, of course, the cell phone and a global positioning system device.

I watched as he disappeared on the trail. Before he left, I instructed him to call me no later than 90 minutes later. Needless to say, 90 minutes later, Michael called my cell phone. He was happy and safe, and after some idle conversation about nature, I asked him where he was.

It was at that point that he informed me that he had no idea where he was, excepting his coordinates from his GPS! I become somewhat alarmed, and asked that he describe to me his surroundings, and how he became lost.

It appears that he left the trail because of some downed trees, and was unable to locate the trail again. He described his surroundings as including a lake and a large empty pond “filled with dead trees.” He also explained that he had crossed a small four-plank walking bridge in disrepair and that required great care in crossing.

I told him to remain calm and I would go back to the DEM’s forestry headquarters for help. At all times he and I were in communications by cell phone. When I arrived at the headquarters, I met Tom Johnson, of Forestry Enforcement. Tom dropped what he was doing and immediately concentrated on helping me find Michael. At all times, Tom was calm and in control.

In the interim, and unknown to me at that time, Michael had phoned the West Greenwich Police and given them his coordinates from his GPS. The police then contacted a forestry official, provided him with Michael’s coordinates, and the search was on.

They spanned out to encircle the area where Michael’s coordinates indicated he was. Mr. Petruska used the siren in his vehicle, in coordination with speaking with Michael by cell phone, to hone in further on the boy. When Michael told Mr. Petruska, Mr. Johnson and Mr. McGovern about the four-plank bridge (including which plank not to step on), they recognized immediately where he was. They drove me to the end of a dirt path deep in the woods, and we all got out of the vehicle and started to hike.

Together, we hiked for about 15 minutes, all while in contact with Michael by cell phone. As we approached the targeted area, Mr. Petruska called out Michael’s name, and we heard Michael yell back. Tom, Ray, Ed, Rodney and I were relieved, as you may imagine. We all ran towards Michael’s voice, and there he was, calmly sitting atop a large rock overlooking a clear, blue pond — cell phone in one hand and GPS device in the other!

Tom, Ray, Ed and Rodney congratulated Michael for being calm, and for handling himself in a mature manner, particularly given the circumstances. They were amazed at his GPS device, and spent time with Michael discussing GPS, the trail system, and the park in general.

I commend Rodney Petruska, Thomas Johnson, Sergeant Raymond Lamont and Edward McGovern for their selflessness and ability that day. They saved my son, and will certainly save others in the future.

Michael Voccola, of Cranston, is a lawyer.