Crockett Search Training Recap

The team is rarely presented with as much advance notice of a search as in February when, on a Thursday evening, the call came announcing there would be a search two days later in lieu of the planned monthly training. The Hasty Squad had the luxury of a planning session Friday night. On Saturday morning, the command post was set up in Crockett at a former school administration building. While a real search, this event also provided an opportunity for full-team training. Many of the resources participated in assignments covering hills and valleys, from the water’s edge inland.


Searcher Spotlight: Larry Shih

Born in Korea to Chinese parents, Larry Shih spent his early years in Korea, then moved to Taiwan for high school. After attending college at S.F. State University here in the U.S., he decided to stay in this country.

After college, Larry went into the hotel business, working as the food and beverage manager for the Hyatt and Marriott hotels, then at the Crowne Plaza and the Embassy Suites in Contra Costa County.
While working, he had time to enjoy his favorite activity—golf. But, because he cares about people and loves to work in local communities, he started volunteering at the Chinatown YMCA 15 years ago. Golf went on the back burner.
After working so many years in Contra Costa County, when Larry decided to join a search and rescue team three-and-a-half years ago, he chose CoCo SAR even though he lives in San Francisco. “I wanted to give back to the county that did so much for me,” he says. Despite devoting a lot of time commuting back and forth for searches, medical details, logistics events, and metal detecting, he also volunteers many hours working with troubled youths, putting his trilingual skills to use while counseling them.
Larry is married and his mother lives with him and his wife. The Shihs’ one son is grown and lives in San Jose.
As Larry gets more searches under his belt, he has found his level of enjoyment grows, and he says he gets great satisfaction from learning how to handle emergency situations.

Searcher Spotlight: Alan Mathews


Nearing his retirement from the Orinda Fire District, Alan Mathews says he sought something to fill the void and keep his mind and body active.

“I thought SAR would be a good fit and keep me working with healthy, active people,” he says. “I haven’t been disappointed.”
Since his college days, Alan has lived the life of a rescuer. At 20, the Walnut Creek native moved to Twain Harte to attend Columbia College where he worked with the school’s fire department. He moved on to Cal Fire as a seasonal firefighter on an engine and heli-tack crew.
Eventually, Alan became an EMT firefighter, and his 30 years of that experience translated well to SAR. He is especially interested in rescue systems, which is a boon to the USAR group. He also teaches first aid and CPR.
While physically active—biking, running, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, crosscountry skiing, and fly-fishing—Alan says he lives, “a quiet and simple life.” He and his wife Denise have three grown kids, a dog, and two cats. He and his sons are working at covering the entire John Muir trail, having taken on about a quarter of it so far. He’s also trying to hit all the trails and fire roads on Mount Diablo, but otherwise he doesn’t venture far from home.
Something about the SAR team that has really stood out to him is how much work so many members do. “I have never seen such a devoted group of people all working together … for no compensation beyond the common good.”

Alzheimer’s and SAR

The Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return® guide describes Alzheimer’s disease as a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate, and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, and delusions or hallucinations.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a group of conditions that gradually destroys brain cells and leads to progressive decline in mental function.
Six out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s will wander. Alzheimer’s disease causes millions of people in the United States to lose their ability to recognize familiar places and faces, or to even remember their names or addresses. They may become disoriented and lost, even in their own neighborhood. They may wander by foot, as well as by car or other form of transportation.
Although common, wandering can be dangerous—if not found within 24 hours, up to half of those who wander risk serious injury or death. Inclement weather, busy roads, and landscape trouble-spots pose a greater risk to the wandering individual.
Brad Dennis, Director for the Klaas Kids Foundation, outlines typical behaviors exhibited by a missing person with Alzheimer’s or dementia:
  • Will usually (89%) be found within one mile of the Point Last Seen (PLS); half found within 0.5 miles. 
  • Will usually be found a short distance from road (50% within 33 yards)
  • May attempt to travel to former residence or favorite place.
  • Will not leave many physical clues.
  • Only 1% will cry-out for help, and only 1% will respond to shouts.
  • Will succumb to the environment (hypothermia, drowning, and dehydration).
  • Will go until stuck; appear to lack the ability to turn around.
  • Will usually be found in a creek or drainage and/or caught in briars/bushes (63%)
  • Leaves own residence or nursing home, possibly with last sighting on a roadway. May cross or depart from roads (67%).
  • Commonly has coexisting medical problems that limit mobility.
  • Has previous history of wandering (72%).
Due to the changes that occur in the brain, people with dementia may have trouble understanding directions and communicating. SAR members should consider the TALK tactics developed by the Alzheimer’s Association when coming in contact with an Alzheimer’s subject.
Take it slow: Approach the person slowly from the front, and speak slowly. Identify yourself and explain why you’ve approached the person.
Ask simple questions: Use questions with one-word answers, and be patient when waiting for a response. Ask one question at a time, allowing plenty of time for response. If necessary, repeat your question using the exact wording.
Limit reality checks: Avoid correcting the person if they answer a question incorrectly. (When checking AxO questions, if they say it’s 1967 and they are in Michigan, accept it).
Keep eye contact: Eye contact and good nonverbal communication will help put the person at ease. Instead of speaking, try non-verbal communication. Prompting with action works well.
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed the Safe Return® program, a 24-hour nationwide identification, support, and enrollment program. The organization works with law enforcement to quickly identify and return to safety a person with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia who has wandered, locally or far from home. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for additional information on the disease.



Team Commendations, March


Micheal and Casey Riggs are Explorers, and at the very young age of 15 have captured the spirit of community service. In their first year on the team, both Micheal and Casey have participated in many trainings, and volunteered for many support roles—in addition to their regular attendance at team meetings. They have helped at several public relations events, promoting SAR by speaking at schools and safety fairs. Not stopping there, they have participated as role players at many of the medical trainings.

Micheal and Casey have logged the most hours of any of the Explorers, and have attended nearly every full-team training over the past year. Most importantly, you will find Micheal and Casey always with a smile and an offer to help with whatever needs to be done

Jamie Cole was chosen to be recognized for his continued service to the Logistics Division on Logistics Night, as well as his ongoing support in the field. Jamie has been there every night, whether it required five minutes of work or five hours. He also has a great let’s-get-it-done attitude that fits right in with the rest of the logistics crew. Jamie is a very hard worker who always looks for the next task necessary to keep the team mission-ready. He consistently offers to help on searches and trainings, staying without complaint until the work is done. Logistics Lieutenant Chris Poppett says he is very proud to have Jamie on the team, helping so unselfishly to support our ongoing logistical needs.

30 Years of Service

People join the SAR team for a variety of reasons. Some seek to give back to the community. Some hope to learn valuable new skills and gain job experience. Some just want to meet new people. For whatever reason our members join, it is their combined experience and commitment to the mission that makes the SAR program so successful.

The accomplishments and drive of the group as a whole is amazing. The average span of an individual SAR career is a little less then five years. There are many reasons why people leave the team. SAR is a difficult volunteer program that requires an extraordinary level of commitment from its members. It is part of the life cycle of the team that we have a very consistent rotation of members who come and go.
That being said, the majority of those who come through our ranks, whether they're here a year or twenty, bring strengths and abilities that continue to build and evolve a successful program. While I would love everyone to spend decades with the team it isn't always possible. And that's ok.
There are exceptions to the five-year rule. One veteran I would like to mention is longtime team member Paul Carlson. This year Paul reached the milestone of 30 years of service to the team. This is an amazing accomplishment. This is a career of service only matched by a few people in the team's history. Most full-time professional careers do not last as long.

Paul saw the team go from a small group of twenty in the early 1980's, to the the team of over two hundred it is today. Finally, life has caught up with Paul. After a long career with Chevron, he recently retired and took up fulltime residence at his vacation home up in Twain Harte in the Sierra foothills. For that reason, Paul decided to hang up his gaiters and trekking poles with Contra Costa Search and Rescue.

Paul was a very active member of the team during his tenure. My first memory of him was when I was a member of the Explorers. I did not know who he was, but at the time saw a very animated, committed team member. He was at all the searches, he helped at trainings, and was one of those early medical gurus who set the foundation for our focus on professional-level first-aid care. Paul also loved managing search operations, and was one of a few "go to" guys who could always be counted on to run a search.
Paul could never get enough of SAR. He held dual membership with Cal-ESAR, a State sponsored SAR team, and various levels of responsibility with CoCo SAR. At different times during his career, Paul was a squad leader, medical instructor, 4×4 member, wilderness resource member, reserve peace officer, team sergeant, and held several positions on the Command Staff. When the team evolved from a phone-tree callout system to a pager system, Paul wrote the original computer program used to page team members.
Paul took great pride in being prepared. He was one of those guys you could call anytime, and at a moment's notice, he would respond to an incident. He was so serious that I remember him showing me how he parked his truck backwards in his garage and left the doors open to shave off a few seconds of response time. Paul earned the occasional ribbing from fellow team members who suggested he also slept in his uniform.
Although Paul is leaving our team, he is going to continue his SAR service. He has applied to be a member of the Tuolomne County SAR team. I wish to personally thank Paul on behalf of the search and rescue team and the Office of the Sheriff for his lifetime of service to search and rescue.
Only a handful of people can make a 30-year career of SAR, but if every member had just a little of Paul's focus and commitment, no matter how long they served, it would have an incredible impact on the team's success.

Friday, March 3rd. Missing Man in Alamo
A Hasty Squad callout was made to look for a missing 40-year-old male who had been at home with his two-yearold child. When his wife returned home from running errands, the man was no longer there. He was found deceased shortly after the call went out. An investigation is under way.