A Growing Reputation

Over the past six weeks, our team has participated in quite a few operations. We’ve had hasty searches, full team searches, Type I searches and special details. To a person, your individual contributions have not gone unnoticed. 

The professionalism and hard work is creating a relationship throughout our department that continues to grow. The visibility we get in our operations is generating more and more requests for service. 

We recently had a search in Alamo for a despondent teenage girl.  While in reality this was a fairly routine search event, we had support that was not routine. In our CP, we had a detective assigned to assist with the missing person investigation.  Why? This detective witnessed the team’s activities in Crockett a few months ago, and was extremely impressed. When we deployed, investigations immediately added a Detective to our CP. This created a coordinated, seamless SAR and Sheriff’s Office investigation. 

A few weeks back, SAR Reserves were specifically asked to assist the SWAT Team and narcotics investigators hike in and eradicate a clandestine pot grow. Why SAR? Our reputation and known fitness standards gave the full-time staff comfort in knowing our people could handle themselves in a very physically rigorous event. 

Another example of the team’s reputation was in the recent Type I deployment to Monterey County. This search for the missing fisherman was in some incredibly difficult terrain that only a few teams in Northern California could handle. We were one of only a couple of teams that were personally requested to assist Monterey County. This was solely based on the reputation of a very respected organization.

The underlying point is that we provide a unique service. Not only that, but we do it better than any other team can. This is a direct result of everyone’s dedication to the overall mission of the SAR program. It’s easy to want to be the best. It’s extremely difficult to actually be the best. All the hours team members commit to the organization pays off in a host of benefits to the community. The value of SAR is well recognized and appreciated throughout the Sheriff's Office.

Team Commendations, May

Ed Molascon was recognized for his outstanding work as one of the leads for the recent Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) class. Ed handled all the admin duties in addition to being an instructor/proctor. Captain Kovar called Ed “a constant in the class,” who was there to ensure everything got handled properly.


David Cossu was also recognized for having spent hours solving a long-standing issue with network communications in several of the team's most critical search tools: computers, printers, and internet hook-ups in the vehicles. The solution and professional networking schematic he produced were most impressive.

USAR — Shoring

On Saturday, April 21st, The USAR Resource held a training to focus on shoring. The training took place at ConFire, with special models custom built by Alan Mathews just for the training. There was plenty of hands-on practice in the yard, with scenarios put together to demonstrate a broad range of Type III USAR skills.

Searcher Spotlight: John Giaconia

The biggest reward that comes from being a SAR member is knowing you helped find someone before the search became a recovery, John Giaconia says.

He joined the team three years ago (with his wife, Karen Synowiec) as a way of giving back to the community. But for him, it was also a way of meeting new and interesting people. It was a winning choice on both counts. The camaraderie, friendships, and knowledge he has gained in the resources and trainings have meant a lot to him, he says, and he has enjoyed the “genuine” people he has gotten to know on the team.

“I found the more you put in, the more you get out of the organization,” he says. “With the constant desire to look for areas of improvement, SAR is always trying to make this experience rewarding for all who care to take the challenge.”

John was born and raised in New Jersey in a large Italian family. His first career was in the newspaper industry, which lasted 28 years. He moved to California in 1983 to work for USA Today, and later for the New York Times. Soon thereafter he got tired of the “rat race,” and decided to take a whole new tack. He activated his New Jersey teaching credential and became a teacher at a continuation high school—first in Martinez, then in Pittsburg. He also earned a master's degree in Teaching Leadership at St. Mary's College. He teaches Art and Microsoft Office … (though not in the same class).

Art is also something he enjoys as a hobby, dabbling in oils when he gets the chance. He's using his artistic talents for SAR, as well, setting up moulage for medical training scenarios.

John also likes to hike and shoot firearms, and most of all, play with his cattle dog, Buster Brown. In his immediate family, besides wife Karen and Buster Brown, John has a 33-year-old son who is a senior software engineer.

When it comes to doling out SAR advice, John offers a tip from his experience: “Take the bumps in the road with the smooth parts and find your comfort zone,” he says. “The rest will take care of itself.”

Searcher Spotlight: Paul Dugan

Paul Dugan has known his wife, Mitzi, since their high school days. Despite all their years together, they are still best friends and happy to partner up for more than marriage. Together, they took a CERT class years ago, and during that class they were influenced by Walter Eichinger to join the SAR team. That was in 2005.

Paul is an Antioch native and just as true as he is to his partner, so he has remained true to his hometown—that is, with the exception of the year he spent serving in Vietnam during the war. He even works for a company called Antioch Building Materials, for which he is a maintenance supervisor and heavy equipment operator.

When he’s not working for pay, he’s working for the other organizations about which he cares. Those include Post 161 of the American Legion (for which he was the commander), a military group, and most recently, the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA). He and Mitzi are working hard to train their two young dogs, Jada and Harley.

For fun, Paul enjoys camping, building hot rods, and riding his motorcycle. The outdoors side of him was drawn to SAR, and he liked the idea of finding people. He says he was surprised, though, how much there has been to learn since he joined. It was also quite a sacrifice to join SAR: He had to shave off a beard he had been growing for eight years!

While Paul and Mitzi currently focus on canine training, they are also both very competent with the Metal Detector Resource, and have participated in many missions.

Paul’s personal SAR motto is very close to the team’s motto: He says, “Always remember we are a team, and we work together so others may live.”

The Member-At-Large and You

Every CoCoSAR team member has the opportunity to sit at the table at every Command Staff meeting.

This is, of course, not true in the literal sense. But it is true in the sense that every member has a chance to be heard through the voice of a teammate acting as the Member-at-Large (MAL).

While the Command Staff maintains a relatively small core of members, the MAL is a rotating position that opens up every six months. During his/her tenure, the MAL has two primary responsibilities:

  1. To complete one or more projects of his/her choice
  2. To act as ombudsman for the team.

The projects can be anything near and dear to the individual MAL’s interests. The first MAL, Alyssa Skye, put the nonprofit “house” that is SAR in order, working on bylaws, tax regulations, etc.  Along the way, the MALs who followed her have chosen tasks as varied as their personalities, from creating better radio communication platforms, to setting up a statistical database, to creating a step-by-step binder delineating the team’s application process. Former MALs have included Michael Cummings, Larry Fong, John Banuelos, and Diane Blue.

Caroline Thomas-Jacobs, the newest MAL, has her project lined up, but she also sees the role of ombudsman as a major responsibility and intends to bring it to the forefront while she fills the position. As ombudsman, the MAL makes himself/herself available to the rest of the team to act as a liaison with the Command Staff, bringing member concerns, suggestions—and yes, complaints—to those individuals who can best address the issues.

A native of New Jersey, now living in El Cerrito, Caroline first studied to be an educator at NYU, but when she moved to the Bay Area, she instead landed a job with Apple. She spent eight years expanding Apple’s retail division and traveling frequently before deciding to stay home with her sons. She joined the SAR team in the fall of 2010, but because she and her wife, Renee, have two young boys to raise and a catering business to run, Caroline limited her SAR activity to completing her Type II status and attending searches for the first year.

When the next Academy rolled around, she jumped in and helped with curriculum and instruction, and this is where her interest lies for her MAL project. She will, as she says, “work to ensure consistent and accurate content, develop a uniform and professional template for all presentations, and create a Fall Academy Handbook, which will reinforce key academy skills and provide supplemental resources for Academy students.” In other words, she’s going to give some needed structure to future academies in the areas of instruction and format. 

Caroline also relishes the role of the ombudsman and wants to be sure all team members know it exists and will use the opportunity the ombudsman provides to speak up. While Merriam-Webster defines ombudsman as “one that investigates, reports on, and helps settle complaints,” Caroline’s version of ombudsman goes deeper.       

“My goal is to increase the voice of the team on the Command Staff, which requires that all team members make their voices heard,” she says. “All team members are encouraged to contact me whenever they have something to say.”

Caroline envisions her ombudsman role as being a facilitator.  She will take members’ suggestions, concerns, and questions to the appropriate parties—whether it’s to the Command Staff, a lieutenant, or a resource sergeant—and she will ensure each team member is provided with a response. It may not be the specific resolution the member wants, but members will know their feedback was heard.

Being a team player at heart, Caroline believes she has a knack for identifying and amplifying the strengths of others. She very much wants to bring those skills to the table as the MAL, to be accessible and receptive, and to help other team members have a chance to express their views without fear or embarrassment.

Caroline wants all CoCoSAR members to know she has an open-door policy, which means phone calls or emails are always welcome. Her contact information is listed in the team roster. 

Also, a feedback/comment form has been added to the CoCoSAR website (under the “Members” menu), which will enable every team member to submit ideas, comments, or concerns—anonymously or with attribution—to Caroline as ombudsman. Where appropriate, she will then present the feedback from the website to the Command Staff each month. She will also make herself available before and after every full-team training for any teammate who wishes to share some thoughts.

Every team member has a right to be heard, Caroline says, so she has made it her goal to create a comfortable channel through which that may happen.

Wilderness EMT Training

By Joe Keyser

So my EMT class was great! I learned a ton of new skills. But as we SAR folks know, you don’t always have an ambulance next to you on a search. How do you manage care when the ambulance isn’t right next to you? To begin learning the answers, I enrolled in a wilderness EMT course taught by the Wilderness Medical Institute (WMI). The course focuses on providing emergency medical care in situations where help is hours—or even days—away.

The class was 48 hours of instruction held over 5 days in a beautiful spot on the Marin Headlands. It was called Wilderness Upgrade For Medical Professionals, offering education credits for EMTs, paramedics and medical practitioners. My fellow students included several doctors, several registered nurses, two physician assistants, a nurse practitioner, an Army Medic recently returned from Afghanistan, and several working paramedics and EMTs. Interestingly, the doctors were not the best students. That designation fell to the working EMTs, probably because they do emergency patient assessments every day.

We spent a good mix of time in the classroom and outside, working through medical scenarios. Some of the scenarios students were presented with included a variety of broken bones and wounds, burns (apparently people spill their cooking water on themselves all the time), hypothermia, altitude sickness, abdominal illness, cardiac issues, an unresponsive patient, and an interesting mental health case. I especially liked the course’s focus on evacuation criteria. All the topics came down to a 3 part decision: can this be handled in the field, is this a slow evac, or do we push the big red switch and get the patient out quickly?

In addition to the simple scenarios, we did two mass casualty incident (MCI) scenarios. The first involved actually throwing 5 students in the Pacific Ocean to simulate a boat wreck. The rest of us had to organize and co-ordinate the rescue and treatment of 5 people who were all hypothermic and had various types of injuries. Working with scene safety as a real consideration was pretty exciting. We also did a night MCI involving patients we were led to believe were not part of the simulation.

Overall the class was an excellent experience. The venue was beautiful. The WMI instructors were highly experienced; both had spent extensive amounts of time working in the field all over the world. I learned new skills, met some amazing people, and got in a tremendous amount of practice with wilderness medicine.