Searcher Spotlight: Mark Moeller

“While all the training and skills we gain and the new friendships we make in SAR are great,” Mark Moeller says, “nothing is as moving as helping to bring closure, good or bad, to the life-changing events of those we serve.”

Because he was interested in rescue operations, years ago Mark joined CERT through the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. Seeking more ongoing activity, in 2008 he joined SAR.

For this Detroit-to-East Coast-to-California transplant, CoCo SAR has provided a “meaningful diversion” from his 25-plus-year career in management in the field of computing services.

He says SAR has provided him with excellent training and, in turn, he’s used his knowledge and skills in a variety of ways, from Hasty Squad, Type I, and USAR, to map creation, trailering, and ATVs. He also credits SAR with making him more effective at his day job and more alert in general.

Mark and his wife, Sandi, enjoy tooling around on their Vespas. They are the parents of three boys and a yellow lab, all of whom keep them busy in everything from pulling the trailer for  the San Ramon High marching band, to leading Boy Scout troops.  Mark has enlisted his youngest son to join him in hiding for the SAR dogs, which he says is a real bonding opportunity.

These words of a 9/11 first responder stick with him: “Remember your best friends: time, distance, and shielding.” That notwithstanding, his favorite piece of SAR wisdom comes from the team’s Coordinator, Rick Kovar: “If it’s wet and not yours, don’t touch it.”

Mark says SAR searches have helped him realize what a difference each of us can make in someone’s life. He is reminded, he says, “how the small things we sometimes sweat need to be let go of in order to live our lives to the fullest.”

2011 Callouts

Here is a breakdown of the 2011 callouts showing the type and location of incidents where CoCo SAR was asked to assist:

In-County Callouts
• 7 Hasty-Only Callouts
• 4 Metal Detectors
• 3 Evidence Searches
• 2 Marijuana Extractions (Type I and full team)
• 1 Full Team – Knightsen
• 1 Full Team and Type II - Walnut Creek/Canal
Out-of-County Callouts
• 3 Type I Callouts
• 9 Type II Callouts
• 6 Full Team Callouts
Mutual Aid Callouts
• Amador County
• Lake County (2)
• Marin County (2)
• Mendocino/Trinity (2)
• San Mateo County (3)
• Solano County (2)
• Sonoma County (6)
• The Federal GGNRA

CoCoSAR Searcher Stats for 2011

This is a great time to look back at the achievements of the previous year. It’s also a great time to analyze the work accomplished. The data below validates who the most active team members were in 2011.

Full Team Training Attendance        2011 Hours Logged Hours
Perfect 12’s
John Banuelos
Andy Comly
Bryan Walley 971
Karyn Corcoran
Karyn Corcoran 927
Wilma Murray
Jennifer Wright  887
Near Perfect 11’s
David Cossu
Top SAR Callout Responders        Calls
Dan Coyne
John Banuelos
Bob Harrison
Gerald Fay 17
Rick Kovar
Bryan Walley 17
Paul Moss
Jennifer Wright 15
Jack Peabody
Rick Najarian 14
Casey Riggs*
Karen Corcoran 13
Micheal Riggs*
Matt Shargel 13
Antoine Snijders
Mark Wilfer 13
Bryan Walley
Judy Apfel 12
*Explorers Frank Moschetti 12
  Wilma Murray 12





Explorer Recognition. The Command Staff would like to highlight the efforts of Micheal and Casey Riggs, who not only made 11 out of 12 team trainings, but also attended more callouts and medical events than any other Explorer.

Packing Lite

One of the many challenges for SAR members is figuring out how much (and what) to carry in a pack. One objective is to reduce the burden of the weight carried. Another is to make sure everything that might possibly be needed is taken along. It can be a difficult balance.

Despite the fitness hike requirement to carry a 20-lb pack, it isn't necessary to carry that much weight on every search. So what's the answer- how does a searcher know what to bring without lugging around unnecessary poundage?

Type I searchers Matt Shargel and Michael Boyce are both experts at packing "ultralight." Matt, for instance, claims he can take a three-day backpacking trip with a five-pound pack, but for the team as a whole, that's not recommended . . . and even Matt would never pack that light for a search.

Ultimately, it's up to the individual to figure out what works for them, but it doesn't hurt to ask the experts how they hone down the weight. Type I team members and those who have been on the team a long time are good resources to ask.

"Every mission is different," Matt says. "Experience-20 searches or so-is the best way to learn how to pack. That's good reason to participate in team, resource, and personal trainings every chance you get."

Certain purchases can also help lighten the load. Michael, for instance, uses Gossamer Gear equipment for shelter and stuff bags. They offer distinct advantages in terms of weight, but can be pricey. Ziplock bags, on the other hand, are a simple, inexpensive way to divide necessities. Taking things out of their packages, or off their spools, can also help. Case in point: use a Sharpie, trekking pole, or Nalgene bottle as a wrap for duct tape.

Start your packing by going through the gear list with an eye toward what items are always necessary: water, snacks, pen, notebook, cell phone, latex or nitrile gloves, and so on. These are the musts that should be with you on every callout. Then go through the list and see what items are mostly seasonal. For instance, rain gear, warm gloves, and woolen hats can all be set aside during the warm months.

Finally, think about the search at hand. It isn't necessary to carry a tarp on an urban search. Nor will you need a fire starter or Tecnu. If you're just going door-to-door, you may even get by with just a fanny pack or shoulder harness. On the other hand, a callout to wooded or mountainous areas may require everything in your 24-hour pack, and maybe more-especially if it's out of county. The needs of a rural callout will be somewhere in between.

The mission will always dictate the priorities. Experienced searchers go through their pack and pull out any gear that isn't typically needed for every search. Those items are often kept in a separate satchel, but brought to the search so last-minute packing can be done for the specific assignment the searcher is given. Different field assignments throughout the day may mean swapping out certain items as needed. Checklists can help, so that in the hurried moments of a callout, a critical piece of gear isn't forgotten.

Talk to your teammates. See how they pack, what they pack, and what they've learned about what they need most and least. Before you spend money on highend gear, ask around to see if someone doesn't have a tip for a simpler solution or less expensive item. You can also learn from mistakes others have made-like buying a heavy first-aid kit when items from the Dollar Store carried in plastic bags would suffice.

Extra weight makes for slower and less-efficient searchers, which leads to decreased performance and reduced effectiveness. So make an effort to lighten up. Like Matt say, "Safety and the mission are first. These objectives can be supported by the informed and experienced selection of needed gear-with efficiency in mind."

Searcher Spotlight: Karen Synowiec

Ground-pounding may have multiple meanings for hydrogeologist Karen Synowiec, whose career provides a nice segue into understanding terrain for navigation (one of the skill sets she brings to SAR).

Raised in Maryland, Karen’s interest in geology has taken her around the country. First it was college (Virginia) and graduate work (Wisconsin and Oklahoma). Then it was her jobs with Gulf Oil (Texas), and currently with Chevron where she develops and implements long-term research and technology projects. She has also visited many other countries because of her job, “seen some beautiful places, and met some really great people.”

Karen is now settled in Martinez with husband, best friend, and co-SAR member John Giaconia, and newly adopted blue heiler/Australian cattle dog, Buster Brown. When not working, traveling, or participating in SAR activities, she loves hiking Mount Diablo, reading, running (with Buster Brown) and preserving the fruits and vegetables she grows in her garden.

She joined CoCo SAR in 2009 after hearing a convincing and “inspiring” pitch at REI. She knows firsthand the value of the work search and rescue teams can do, she says, after her own 92-year-old mother went missing some years ago. She saw CoCo SAR as her way to give back and have fun at the same time.

“I really enjoy getting to know team members, and continue to be amazed by the backgrounds and skills of the people on the team,” she says. She is proud to be a part of, “such a large, well-organized, and impressive team and group of people.”

Karen says she loves the challenges, both to remember all she has learned so far and to take on new skills. Though it’s hard to always work around job and family obligations, she says, she hopes she can, “give back as much as I get.”

New Radios, Same Procedures (Almost)

If you’ve been in some of the Sheriff’s vehicles lately, you may have noticed a new radio has been installed: the Motorola APX 7500 O5. The change is part of an upgrade to allow the use of additional frequencies and functions. Using this radio is essentially unchanged from any other vehicle radio: turn it on, select the channel, and press the PTT button on the microphone. But how you do this is slightly different.

The biggest visible change is the orange screen that displays the channel along with other information. The layout of the knobs and buttons can be seen on the radio’s Quick Reference Card, available in the Documents section of the SAR website. The three most important controls—power (on/off), volume, and channels—are shown in the photo above. Rotate the channel knob through the 16 Zone-1 channels until you find Tac 4 (see channel list sidebar). The radio also has many advanced capabilities beyond the basic send-and-receive functionality, including secured communications, telephone capabilities, and other features that won’t be used by SAR.

In addition to new radios being put in, the power on/off function in the vehicles is being changed. In the past, the power to the radio was sometimes wired through the ignition switch. In that situation the ignition needs to be on in order to operate the radio. The alternative was to have the radio wired directly to the battery … which then drained the battery if the vehicle was parked and the radio was not specifically turned off. Now all vehicles are standardized so the ignition must be on for the radio to work; the radio will automatically lose power when the key is turned off.

An additional change: All accessories will automatically be powered off by a ‘power tamer’ within 30 to 60 minutes after the ignition switch is turned off. This should help minimize the chance of having a dead battery due to accessories (such as a GPS charger) consuming battery power when the engine is of

Bicycle Academy Grads

CoCo SAR’s annual Bicycle Resource Academy was held on December 18th. Resource Sergeant Michael Boyce and Corporal Michael Correia successfully ushered nine students through the process of reviewing bicycle safety, discussing the pros and cons of various gear, testing basic skills, and the finer points of using bicycles in SAR. By the end of the day, the following students had successfully completed the academy:

  • Andy Birbaum
  • Brendan Correia
  • Christina Ditzl
  • Erik Fok
  • Bob Harrison
  • Alvin Lubrino
  • Rick Najarian
  • Pierce Plam
  • Brad Schimek

Congratulations to the new members of the Bicycle Resource!

Joe Keyser named MRG Training Sergeant

Joe Keyser has has been promoted to the newly created position of Mountain Rescue Group Training Sergeant. Joe is an experienced backcountry guide and has been a regular participant on MRG trainings. He has a thorough understanding of the curriculum and field work candidates must complete to become Type I searchers. Joe joined CoCo SAR in 2009, and completed his Type I Training during the summer of 2010. Later that year Joe accepted the role of MRG logistics corporal, where he initiated best practices in setting up gear records (including rope logs critical to meeting safety standards), completed the MRG gear requisition, and rehabilitated the cache on the MRG truck

John Banuelos named Academy Sergeant

John Banuelos has been appointed to the position of Academy Sergeant, taking on one of the most important roles on the team. The annual academy classes are the first in-depth experience new team members have with CoCo SAR. Instilling a positive attitude in our new recruits, while training them in the skills necessary to find people and save lives, is critical to our long-term success, and sets the foundation for team culture. As more than half of us have experienced directly, John has been a key contributor to our academy classes for the last several years as Academy Corporal. As a team, we are privileged to have John take on such a critical role.

New Logistics Lieutenant

Chris Poppett has been promoted to the Logistics Lieutenant position. Chris has been an active member of CoCo SAR in a variety of areas. He has been both a Logistics Corporal and Academy Corporal for several years. Chris and the Logistics Division have been extremely valuable to the team, working tirelessly behind the scenes to get us ready for searches and trainings, then clean up after us when the fun is done.