Focus on Success

This has been quite a month. Between completing the 2012 SAR Academy and bringing 38 new members on the team, we experienced one of the busiest months of operations we have had in a long time. One quarter of our total missions for 2012 were handled in the month of October.

On every callout, the team performed outstanding, professional service and made the difference on many searches. At the last staff meeting, we reviewed every mission and discussed what went well and evaluated what areas we can improve on. We have created an improvement plan matrix to ensure we as a team consistently address any areas of improvement.

This continuous improvement process is one of the key points that sets this team apart. We as a culture do not allow the status quo.  Each member plays a huge role in building this program and ensuring its continued growth and success.

The Office of the Sheriff does appreciate the team's work. Each time the SAR Team deploys, a report is generated and sent to every department member from sergeant up to the sheriff. In this report is a brief synopsis of where the team is going and what it is doing.

The respect and gratitude from the full-time staff continues to grow and evolve. The last incident report included the following narrative from the on-call duty officer:

"Yesterday at about 1200 hours in Santa Cruz County, CCCSO SAR members located the missing subject deceased. All members returned to the op area at 1430 hours.

"As always, thanks go out to every volunteer member that was able to assist. Many of these team members have not only been available for nearly every call in the past month, but have played strong roles performing background tasks within the group, from logistics to training new members. All on their own time … all without complaint."

The fact that everyone is singularly focused on the team's success has been demonstrated at all levels of the team this past month.  No matter how big or how small the contribution, you made a difference to those we serve. Thank you.

Full Team Training: SAR-O-Rama

October's team training was another SAR-O-Rama event during which team members — both longtime and new Academy graduates — had the opportunity to visit six stations (out of a choice of 11) over the course of the day. Anyone who hankered to try out a metal detector could do so, and many jumped at the chance to drive the Gator or to be introduced to the ins and outs of the IC trailer. There was a low-angle rope-rescue station and several opportunities to learn patient care and packaging, including wilderness assessment and care. An introduction to search management was taught at one location and at another, members learned how to download tracks from a GPS. One station introduced tracking and another navigational skills. Throughout the day, as some refreshed old skills and others learned new ones, all were aware that everything we learn is perishable without practice.

Fresno Search in the Sierra National Forest

By John Banuelos

There were four Sierra searches caused by a single snowstorm. The October 22nd snowstorm had set up a cascade of missing hunters and hikers in the Sierras. CoCoSAR had already responded to the Bear Valley call, and now we were off to the Sierra National Forest near Fresno.  A search for Matthew Hanson had been initiated by Fresno SAR on October 28th. He was late from a backpacking trip that started on October 16th, with a projected return of October 25th. CoCoSAR had three members to send: Jeremiah Kost, Andy Csepely and me. For Jeremiah and me, this was our second Type I search within a week.

As with any Type I deployment, you come “loaded for bear.” Each team member came with gear suitable for sub-zero temperatures and any major change in weather patterns.  It had been made clear by Fresno SAR that every responding team would be placed in the field with an expectation of handling a full 72-hour tour.  Weather looked mild, but changes were coming. Plus the altitudes were going to drive sub-freezing temperature in unprotected snow-covered terrains.  Included in our stash were night vision gear, FLIR, an Iridium phone and SPOTS. At 1845 hours on October 28th, we were off and ready for the five-plus-hour drive to CP.

Meanwhile, a Hasty callout was made at 1900 hours to a search for a missing 14 year-old. As a rule, all in-county searches take priority over out-of-county searches. So though we were en route, timing was perfect because we were nearing Morgan Territory Road where the search was to take place. By 2100 hours, the subject was found and the three of us continued on to the Fresno search. We rolled in at 0400 hours, got a few hours of sleep and rose ready to deploy at 0800 hours on October 29th.

Fresno SAR had a detailed itinerary left by the subject. He had also indicated possible diversions within his plans. Search teams were to be assigned to high probability locations where he might hunker down and to passes where he might try to cross over on the White Mountain Divide. 

CoCoSAR was given several possible passes to search along with Bighorn, Ambition and Valor lake, between 10,000- to 12,000-foot elevation. We were to be inserted by Blackhawk helicopter with two other teams made up of BAMRU and Marin SAR.

The helicopter insertion went as expected. We had to prepare for blade wash and noise and to follow crew instructions precisely. With no ability to hear any instructions from the crew, hand signals had to be heeded. Every member of the crew is focused on very precise tasks and there is little tolerance for anyone’s inability to follow directions.

Our helicopter did initial passes over a wide area in a search pattern before prepping for the insertion of the search teams. This allowed us to assess the terrain. As expected it was snow-covered, with little forest cover, and filled with masses of broken granite boulders. While it looked like heaven to explore as a hiker, it would be tough to cover as a searcher looking for a lost hiker.

Never assume that the pilots are fully informed about the assignment and insertion point of the teams in the helicopter. Fortunately, Jeremiah had kept track of our position on his GPS and when he told me that the pilots were about to drop us at a location too far away from everyone’s primary search assignment, I was able to give the pilots a better insertion point for all the teams involved. This was right at Ambition Lake. It was now 1200 hours.

We had a 1 KM by 3 KM search area that went from 10600 ft up to 12000 ft of elevation. We were already at 11,000-plus ft. of elevation. The entire area was full of granite boulders covered with snow. Areas of our assignment required steep ascents. They were not technical, but caution was needed. There was a danger of twisting an ankle or a knee if the snow gave way into an open space between boulders. Working in unstable footing with a heavy pack (needed in these conditions) creates a constant stress on the body’s core muscle groups. Add the altitude, and bonking rises to a possibility far faster than one would expect.

At 1530 hours, the subject had been found after new information on his itinerary had been given to the search manager. A helicopter was able to sight and retrieve the subject at Cathedral Lake, which was three kms south of our search assignment.

While we were near our original extraction point, it was important to continue to listen to the radio for helicopter operations updates. Two issues came up. One was that the helicopters needed fueling, which could have meant a night out, since they would not fly at night. The other was a discussion on a different extraction point for teams in the area, which could have meant a need to move fast to prevent a night out.

Andy’s HAM skills were called on again and again. He kept in touch with other teams using a HAM repeater in the area or on Clemars 1 using an extended antenna. Communication with CP was done primarilyy with Eagle (other aircrafts in the air) relays of information from teams in the field to CP.  Monitoring all traffic in this environment was critical, and Andy did it well. We were able to convince CP to use the original extraction point.

Fresno SAR had an on-site food service truck and a pasta dinner and dessert was provided for all the teams. This same food service had provided breakfast and packed lunches for the teams. We drove off the mountain with full stomachs to make the five-plus-hour drive back to OES.

The Class of 2012

Hello I’m a freshman at Acalanes High School in Lafayette. Before that I attended Seven Hills from kindergarten to eighth grade. I first found out about Search and Rescue through my middle school science teacher and fellow team member Matt Shargel. My brother Adam Blake joined last year, and after seeing what a good experience he had, I decided to join as well.


As a former self-professed “I hate nature” girl, I had little inclination for doing anything remotely close to what we do in SAR, until I got to know what CoCoSAR is all about. The teamwork, the sense of adventure, and most importantly, the mission to help people were what brought me here.

In addition to working with SAR, I am a personal trainer and running coach, and I work at UC Berkeley doing worksite wellness programs for faculty and staff. I have an 11-year-old son, Zende, who is my partner in crime for all things geeky, sci-fi, LEGO, comics, and of course, zombies. You might see him at SAR trainings as I tend to drag him to volunteer him for stuff, like medical role plays.

Training with CoCoSAR and learning important search, rescue, and survival skills has given me the confidence to do things I never thought I’d find myself doing, especially at this stage in my life. Thank you for allowing me to be part of such a dedicated and amazing organization!

I'm 30 years old and about two years ago I decided it was my turn to help others that may notalways be able to help themselves. That's when I joined the Army Reserves, and it has fueled my fire to help out my community and those in need every day since. After some significant technical rescue training, I found the CoCoSAR team and a lightbulb lit up again for me, just one more way for me to give back to my community that I love so much.

I come from a large family rooted in the deep East Bay in a small city named Brentwood, which I've called home for nearly 20 years. The SAR family is one that I plan to stay part of for many years to come, and hopefully plan on bringing a few more family members into as well.

Outside of SAR, I enjoy fine wines, long walks on the beach, cycling the rolling hills of the greater Bay Area and I throughly enjoy dining out at the many amazing eateries in the Bay Area.

I'm a junior at College Park High School and I decided to join Search and Rescue because it seemed like the most interesting, hands-on volunteer activity. So far it has been, and I'm excited for my future with the team.

I live in Alamo and I am a junior at San Ramon Valley High School. I am involved in leadership and I throw shot put and discus for our track team. I have my own photography business shooting sports, portraiture and product.

Some of my hobbies include surfing, long boarding and playing the guitar. At home I have two very loving parents and an older brother who is running at the University of Alabama.

Living where I am, I have been blessed with so much and I have felt the need to give back to such a great community. I feel like I have learned so much in the training so far, and I am looking forward to honing my skills and learning more and more each day.

I'm coming to CoCoSAR after 20-plus years with Oakland Police Department, five of them full-time, and the rest as a reserve officer. I realized I missed the service aspect of being a reserve, and wanted to find something I could do with my daughter, Hunter. We found SAR and went through the application process and Academy together. It's been awesome! Right now, I'm interested in the USAR and Metal Detector resources.

During the day, I'm a financial advisor with my own Linsco-Private Ledger practice. I'm a licensed pilot (non-current) and ham operator (KF6DBA). We spend as much time as possible at our cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Along with Hunter, I also have a son, Parker, at University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) on a track and field scholarship. We live in Alamo with my wife of 21 years, Gretchen, a couple of Dobermans, a Miniature Pinscher, and a cat with no tail.

After retiring from a career in finance and banking, I’m looking forward to getting out from behind a desk and doing something meaningful for my community. SAR seemed to be the perfect blend of community service, an opportunity for continual learning, and a way to meet some great people and spend time outdoors. I don’t yet know where I want to focus in SAR once I get through the Academy. At this point everything sounds interesting!

I live in Martinez with my wife, Linda, and our two dogs. Our daughter Christina is away at college. When not waiting for a callout, I like to backpack, ski, bicycle, support Cal sports, and travel. I look forward to serving with you and getting to know the team better.

I'm a San Francisco native that didn't leave the city very much. So my idea for getting out meant going to concrete stadiums and gymnasiums for entertainment and activities. Now I'm looking forward to branching out into the real wilderness, or wherever SAR will take me, to help those in need.

Joining SAR and doing the things that we do is something far out of my comfort zone, so I'm looking forward to learning as much as I can and becoming as much of a contributor as possible to the team.

I live in Danville with my wife Vivienne and we have two kids, 21 and 19. Our focus was always on their activities as they grew up. Now, with much more free time, I hope to find additional volunteer opportunities in addition to SAR.

My background over the last 10 years consists mostly of retail management, even though I have always had an interest in public safety. At the start of this year, I finally made the choice to change my career to the public safety field. I took an accelerated course at Unitek Education and received my certification as an EMT in early April. Since then I have been working as an EMT in Pleasant Hill.

In my free time I try to learn as much as I can about emergency medicine in preparation for paramedic school, which I hope to start next year. I joined the Search and Rescue Team to further my knowledge and experience in the public safety field and have more opportunities to help people in need.

I moved here from Arizona last year and stumbled upon you orange shirts while climbing up on Mount Diablo. After speaking to a few of you about the team and its mission, I couldn't wait to join. My day job (and night job – I love what I do and I do it a lot) is as an attorney in Walnut Creek. In my free time, I like to socialize, play sports, and travel.

Since moving to the Bay Area, it seems like I get to travel somewhere new and different every week just by picking a direction and driving. This place is great! Right now my favorite place is Muir Beach with my pup splashing around in the waves, but I hope you all will tell me your other favorite spots to check out.

I’ll be on the team and in the area for years to come, so see you around!

I am very excited to be a part of the team. My professional background is in law enforcement and more recently management at the City of Antioch. I have always been driven by public service. My beautiful wife and I have five amazing kids. Competing in triathlons, camping and anything outdoors are activities we enjoy together as a family.

I look forward to meeting and working with everyone; the people I have had a chance to meet so far are amazing.

I recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and am currently living with my family in the beautiful East Bay Area while I work on finding my career. My ultimate goal is to find an opportunity to use my skills in the biotechnology or agricultural modification field, but in the meantime I am privately tutoring high school students, and working as a hostess and food server at the Peasant’s Courtyard in my hometown of Alamo.

I miss the ocean and beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara, but it is so nice to be back north where the leaves change with the season and the young folks listen to HyPhy music. I absolutely love the outdoors and am excited by new challenges, and I am so happy to call myself a member of the CoCoSAR family.

I have lived in various cities within Contra Costa County all of my life. Currently a Concord resident, I have come to love the community where I live. I own an insurance agency based in Walnut Creek where I provide insurance solutions for the personal and commercial insurance needs of my clients.

I have always enjoyed the outdoors, including hiking, camping, bow hunting and fishing. I also have an extensive background in Japanese martial arts and tactical firearms training.

I just recently learned of CoCoSAR’s existence and jumped at the chance to join the team. I am so proud to say that I am working with such a selfless, focused, and caring group of people. Many thanks to all of the proctors involved in our Type II and III academies. You have all set a professional and self-sacrificing example that is worthy of imitation. I am honored to be among the next generation of searchers in CoCoSAR. Ab imo pectore. (That’s for you Machete.)

I am 16 years old, and I am a junior at Bentley High School. I play soccer for my high school and love the outdoors. I love to hike, ski, bike and go offroading. I really like to work on my car and ride dirt bikes too. And, I love SAR.

The starting event in my outdoor career was climbing Mt. Shasta with the Boy Scouts at age 12. I hiked the John Muir trail from Yosemite to Whitney (in a group) at 17. That hooked me on outdoor activities. Once out of UC Davis, we started a tradition of backpacking every summer (in the high Sierras as that is the only place I can catch fish) that still endures.

At 32, I became interested in ski patrolling at Alpine Meadows. I volunteered there for the next 16 years, fascinated by the work, and learned to deal with many medical emergencies. After my divorce, I was lost for a couple of years, with no interest in doing anything other than work. While searching genealogy sites (my mother’s side of the family has been in Contra Costa County since the 1870s farming and ranching in Pacheco and Pleasant Hill) I came across the CoCoSAR website. I was pleased to learn that I still had time for the training in 2012 and did it. I’m looking forward to working for and with CoCoSAR in the coming years.

I have been married to Sallie for 30 years (as of this writing) and have three great daughters. I currently have two part-time jobs that allow me to do all the volunteer work that I do. I have been a volunteer CFO for a small charitable foundation since 1998. I also volunteer at an adult assisted-living facility, I am a volunteer for the Sheriff's SAVES program at the Alamo station where I have a regular Wednesday afternoon shift, and now have added membership to SAR.

Out of all of them I find SAR is the most interesting and, hopefully, as I get into it more and participate in real searches, the most rewarding. I enjoy the physical nature of it, the great group of people I have met (both my academy class and those already in), and the many new skills I have learned and have yet to learn.

I was born and raised in Martinez. My first adventure was joining the Navy right out of high school. I ended up stationed in Jacksonville, Fla. Four years later, after a couple hurricanes, I returned to Martinez with my wife. Two years later I joined the Navy reserve. I have now been deployed twice to the Middle East. The first time was immediately after my divorce, the second was immediately after my second marriage.

I’ve always had a strong drive to help others. My ultimate goal is to start a career in law enforcement. One day, while jogging by my house, I ran into CoCoSAR members and after a conversation with the proctor, I realized this was what I was looking for. I joined CoCoSAR because I feel I can truly help someone.

I was born in Baltimore, Md., and then moved 20 miles north to a town called Bel Air when I was 10 years old. My family still lives in the Baltimore area. I started working at the local Safeway Store in 1976 as a courtesy clerk. I moved to California in 1984 to pursue my career in Information Technology (IT) with Safeway. I’m currently an IT project manager managing multi-million dollar IT projects and have been with Safeway for 36 years. When I’m not working, you’ll find me exploring the local parks on my mountain bike or hiking with my girlfriend, Cindy, and my 7-year-old yellow lab.

There are two reasons why joining Search and Rescue interests me. The first reason is that I find it very rewarding to donate my time instead of cash donations. I have spent 12-plus years with the Big Brothers program and the last 3-plus years involved with Special Olympics as a coach (bowling and track and field). Search and Rescue is another opportunity that will allow me to volunteer my services and result in a rewarding experience.

The second reason is that I spend many hours hiking with my dog, mountain biking and adventure racing and I’m excited to share these skills with SAR. The skills obtained through working with SAR could one day benefit other aspects of my outdoor activities.

I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Guatemala from 2009-2011 doing a Healthy Homes project. I currently channel my inner Erin Brockovich working for an environmental consulting firm in Walnut Creek doing fieldwork and Salesforce Admin. With my plentiful free time (note sarcasm), I enjoy most anything outdoors such as running, swimming, biking and yoga, though I love to read and am learning to knit. I’m a huge Giants fan and I am excited to wear bright orange year ’round.

As a child, getting lost was a constant fear and became relevant after the abduction of Polly Klaas when I was 9 from the next town over. I was inspired to join SAR after watching the news at the gym one evening and learning that after two months, the volunteer SAR crews were still searching for a lost girl in San Jose. CoCoSAR is such a humble, dedicated group and I am ecstatic to be a part of such an amazing community.

I am so thrilled and honored to be a new graduate of SAR. Like most everything in our lives, Roger and I chose to do SAR together. But, we have also found the things that interest us individually. I am a local girl. I have lived in CoCo County most of my life. We got married here, had our children here and run our business here.

I work at Walnut Acres Elementary School as the school's secretary! I love my job! An elementary school is one of the happiest places on earth. My family is my world; my job is a bonus! That makes SAR an added bonus! What a thrill and an honor to be a part of the SAR family.

I heard about SAR while sitting next to a team member at an A's game. He spoke so highly of SAR that it prompted me to talk to my wife about it. We looked into SAR online and decided to attend an orientation. Neither one of us has looked back.

I am the father of three adult children. Teresa and I have one grandson, Jackson. We spend our free time on our boat or riding our jet-ski out on the Delta. I've recently taken up duck hunting after a 30-year break. I run my own construction business and my son works with me. I’ve been a carpenter since I was in high school. I'm a California native and proud to say I have lived my entire life in CoCo County.

I have lived in Contra Costa County for 15 years, but had never heard of the Search and Rescue team until this year. My school, College Park, was having a job fair and SAR had a booth. I went to the orientation and six months later I’m on the team. I thought it would be a good way to serve my community and build on my outdoor skills that I have been learning as a Boy Scout.

Boy Scouts gave me my first introduction to the great outdoors in sixth grade and I have loved it ever since. I also enjoy reading, Ultimate Frisbee, disc golf, canoeing and biking. I attend College Park as a junior and plan on going to college to get my degree in computer engineering.

I'm a varsity wrestler, I'm 16 and I play 13 different musical instruments. I joined Search and Rescue because I had a bad childhood and I didn't really have anybody to help me. So, I always want to help people so they have someone to help them, even if it's something small. Laura Hubbard (current SAR member) is a relative and she said I should join, so here I am.

I am a 17-year-old junior at Ygnacio Valley High School. I am so excited to be on the team, and can't wait to participate more and more. I am a huge Giants and sports fan, and run on my school's cross country and track teams. I look forward to many years on SAR.

I am a junior at Ygnacio Valley High School. I run cross-country and play lacrosse for my school. I am very excited to be on the team and can't wait to go on my first callout! I hope to study forensic science in college and pursue a career in law enforcement or crime scene investigation. I have an identical twin sister on the team; good luck telling us apart!

I am a junior attending College Park High School. I am very involved in sports. I play soccer and run both track and cross-country. I found SAR through my school's job fair. So far, I am enjoying being part of the SAR program and I hope to continue with it after I attend college.

I'm a married father of one who lives in Concord. My free time is mostly dedicated to family, and projects around our house and garage. I am self-employed as a sales professional. Currently my focus is pre-arranged cremation plans, but I have background in the financial ends of banking, real estate and automotive as well.

While looking for a career change, I found CoCoSAR on the Sheriff's website. It was clear SAR could offer some of the same opportunities I've been looking for in a job; such as learning new skills, helping others in need and working as part of a team, as well as honing leadership skills, all while establishing new friendships and challenging myself. I look forward to working with you all.

I am recently retired from a 26-year career at UPS. Three years ago, I moved to Walnut Creek with my fiancé, three great Danes (since passed), three cats and four macaws. Outside of SAR, I enjoy shooting pistols and rifles – no hunting!

I first became interested in SAR when Michelle Le's body was found by a dog “in training.” The case interested me because she was abducted a half mile from my UPS route. I joined CARDA in January 2012, and since then decided to join my county's team.

I grew up and went to college in West Virginia and commissioned as an officer in the Army. I was stationed in Hawai’i for four years and, when I wasn’t deployed or training, spent most of my time scuba diving and hiking. In 2010, I left the Army and moved to the Bay Area with my wife so she could pursue her doctorate at UC Berkeley.

I manage a lighting manufacturing facility in Richmond for Cooper Industries and live in Pinole with my wife and two dogs.

I was on a SAR team in college and have wanted to get involved again as a way of helping my new community, sharpening my skills, and meeting new people. I have been extremely impressed with the level of professionalism and training of CoCoSAR; I’m looking forward to advancing to the Type 1 level in the next year or so.

In eighth grade, when my former science teacher Matt Shargel told me about Search and Rescue, I knew that it sounded like something that I would be interested in. I think it is an interesting way to help others while doing something I enjoy. I am a student and swimmer at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek. I also am a sponsored bass fisherman and California representative for a tackle company. I also enjoy snowboarding, paintballing, long-boarding and camping.

I have enjoyed my amazing experience in the Type 3 Academy and am appreciative of all of the hard work the proctors have put in, as well as my awesome coach Casey Riggs, who made my introduction to SAR great. He was there to answer questions whenever I needed an answer, and I look forward to working with him in the field as well as everybody else on the team!

I'm a 14-year-old freshman at Acalanes High School. I am in Boy Scout Troop 204 in Lafayette – rank Life. My sports are cross country and track. I also do a lot of mountain climbing, including on Mt. Whitney and Mt. Shasta. All my life I have lived right next to the Walnut Creek Open Space and have pretty much memorized the trails out there.

I joined the team because of my love for the outdoors and the satisfaction of helping people in need. I have two brothers, both in college. The oldest is a reserve deputy in Los Angeles and the middle brother is a fellow team member on the CoCoSAR Team. I am currently the only child at home with my parents and two dogs. I look forward to meeting you all and to work with you all in future missions!

I live in Antioch. I'm a student going to Dozier-Libbey Medical High School. I play the piano. I like to read and listen to music. I have one sibling — a younger brother.

I was raised in England, in a working-class culture that values hard work, integrity and down-to-earth honesty. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 20; first living in the northeast, then settling in California. Being a mom at a young age, while going to college, taught me resilience, tenacity and humility – traits I’ve found useful in search and rescue training!

Pleasant Hill is now home where I live with my ever-patient husband, Jon, and two cranky cats. Our daughter’s a recent UC Davis graduate, currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, and our son’s in his senior year at UC Santa Barbara, making plans for grad school.

I get out in the wilderness and travel as much as I can, make art (and trouble) with Jon, and share good food with friends regularly. The rest of the time, I run my own consulting business, helping organizations with marketing and communications. In just two months with CoCoSAR, I’ve already grown a lot as an individual. I’m very proud to be on the team, and excited to see what being part of it brings to my life.

Team Commendations, November

Member Recognition

Larry Fong, John Banuelos and Ed Griffith were selected  for member recognition for their outstanding leadership, organization, and direction for the recent Type 3, Type 2, and UNO trainings. It was another successful academy and they each dedicated a tremendous number of long hours and energy to ensure our team has the best students and proctors around.


Chris Poppett, Josh Israel, Chris Retta, and Judi Apfel were selected for their tremendous work with the Logistic Resource. In October there seemed hardly a night when one or all of them was not at OES setting up or breaking down for some SAR event or training. In addition, they performed a lot of logistic work outside the SAR Team as well. Logistics is a terrific team and we appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work they do.


Captain's Commendation

Jeremiah Kost and John Banuelos were awarded Captain's Commendations for their response to and participation in two out-of-county Type 1 searches and one in-county Hasty callout  within the same week. The dedication and spirit of community service was overwhelmingly demonstrated by their actions and we thank them so being such an example for our Team.


2012 Type 3 and 2 Academies

By John Banuelos
Academy Sergeant

After four weeks of commitment, 38 new Type 3 members (25 adults and 13 Explorers) officially joined the Team on September 27th. A graduation of sorts was held in the FOB parking lot late that night as they received their Sheriff ID cards. You never heard a louder group of cheers and congratulations given for fellow members; it was a level of enthusiasm that created delight for all who observed the ceremony.
After a break, 23 fresh Type 3 members and 10 Explorers pressed right into the Type 2 Academy, adding two more weeks of effort to their already full-time lives. Their enthusiasm never dissipated. They all wanted to be Type 2 ground-pounders and were ready to take on UNO.

Like every UNO before this class, the secret was kept, the challenges were laid out, and UNO was unleashed on 30 ready, willing and able students of 2012. Dungeon Master Larry Fong, with the help of his minion of SAR veterans, orchestrated the challenges for the next 24-plus hours.
At 0300 hours on Sunday, when I said, “The next phase of UNO begins now,” nobody gave me a cheery look (rather quite the opposite). Luckily, it was the sleep phase. Tired and worn, they bedded down to await the dawn and the final phase of UNO. Few slept, some struggled, but all kept their focus on the mission. Dawn came, and with it, the final challenges of the new day. The participants were not as fast or as spry as the day before, but they persevered through the early morning.

Sunday morning brings the “Mogadishu mile.” On this day, 20 new Type 2 candidates, with nine explorers and Eddy Crochetiere (now a certified Type 2) did the “mile” with Lisa McGraw, the volunteer subject, carried on the stokes wheel. As they neared the end, the smiles of the Class of 2012 beamed once again.

How many CocoSAR members does it take to do the academies and UNO?
I can tell you with great pride that 100 members contributed to the development of these 38 members. Eighty members helped with the Type 3 Academy. An additional 20 joined in during the Type 2 Academy and UNO. Chris Poppett’s logistic crew, Larry Fong’s minions of UNO, the bulk of the team resources, the Hasty squad, and so many more contributed to making the Type 3 and 2 academies a success. I thank each and every one of you for your support. Job well done.

This ratio of 2.5 veterans helping in the development of one new member was not lost on the Class of 2012. Even after UNO, they all stayed on to help put away and rehab the equipment. Once done, as a group they presented to the Academy staff, the Command Staff, and to the full Team of CoCoSAR, by proxy, a plaque. Its message was simple; from the original 38, it was a heartfelt thank you to the full team for all that we had done to help them.

A Perfect Storm: A Test of Training, Gear, Teamwork, Fitness, and Trust

By Matt Shargel

The first winter storm of the year in the Sierras always seems to catch folks in the backcountry off guard. This year, the Mountain Rescue Group responded to two Type 1 searches in the aftermath of the year’s first snowfall and freezing temperatures. Below is a summary of our efforts to find and rescue a missing man and his nephew who got lost while spending the day hiking and hunting in the backcountry near Ebbetts Pass.

We arrived at Bear Valley late Tuesday evening, got what sleep we could, and were ready for an 0800 briefing on Wednesday at the fire station. The storm had been blowing all night long and left nearly a foot of cold fresh snow on the ground. We drove to the field CP at the Hermit Valley trail head and had to chain up the MRG truck for the first time that I can remember.

After a briefing, we headed out on the first search assignment of the day as a team of five (John Banuelos, Jeremiah Kost, Larry Fong, Joe Keyser and I). In county, we are drilled to have our gear prepped and ready to go when an assignment is given, and we try as much as possible to maintain this habit on T-1 searches as well; our readiness on T-1 searches often results in the first and highest POD assignments heading our way.

We hiked and snow-shoed about two miles down a drainage to the start of our search area, which was focused on a major clue found the day before: a smoldering campfire and emergency blanket. The storm was beginning to pass, but the air was still very cold and significant snow was still falling.

As we were dividing up the search area, we heard a radio call that a team farther down the drainage had found fresh tracks. A team of two from Calaveras was continuing an assignment from the day before, having spent a night in the field. It had snowed about a foot overnight and the tracks they found were on top of this, but covered by about half an inch of fresh snow.

Our distance down the drainage was making radio comms to CP sketchy at best, but we could clearly hear and respond to the Calaveras team. We were faced with a field decision without clear feedback or direction from the CP. Our in-county experience and our practice during the MRA Wilderness Ops certification all kicked into high gear.

How would we get information from the Calaveras team back to the CP? How could we physically support this team and at the same time, work on our own search area? If we split up, what backcountry and emergency gear were we carrying, and could we maintain our commitment to providing care in the field to a downed subject while still having gear for our own safety? And as team lead, if we were to split up, did I trust in the judgment, ability, and training of the new smaller teams?
As I went through this checklist, first in my own mind and then with everyone on the team, every “no-go” concern I had was covered and our response decision was made.

Jeremiah and I double-timed it down the drainage trying to pick up the trail to potentially cut off the subject if he was headed back upstream. Banuelos, Keyser, and Fong continued on from the fire pit clue. The plan was sound, but as those with experience know, we must adapt to what we find and we were sure in for much more action that day!

Just as Jeremiah and I located another unburned campfire attempt along the tracks, the Calaveras team caught up with the adult subject. Jeremiah and I were about 10 minutes behind. Their radio traffic could not be heard by any other team due to the distance. When we caught up with the Calaveras team and the subject a few minutes later, we took over coms and IC as the two Calaveras members tended to the subject. We provided dry clothes, warm soup and an emergency blanket.
The subject reported leaving the deceased youth subject up the drainage near the first campsite.

We were now faced with the challenge of communicating this sensitive information back to the CP. Our first step was to get teams heading in the direction of the youth. I directed our second group (John, Larry, Joe) to change the radios to tac4, and then used our internal radio codes to communicate the significance of the situation and the location for follow up. At the same time, due to the critical nature of the situation, I sent a priority HELP message through the SPOT device.

After several failed attempts to contact CP via satellite phone to satellite phone connection, I called Rick Kovar at OES, then I radio relayed via the main (CLEMARS) frequency asking CP to call Kovar directly from their own satellite phone. Kovar passed the sensitive intel on to CP along with our location.

CP dispatched a CHP helicopter based on these directions and promptly flew over us in the field where we were with the first subject. Via radio to the helicopter, we were able to direct it to our exact location in the forest.
Now our training on landing zones and helo operations was kicking in. What FOD or other hazards were in the area? Were comms clear between us and the helo? And how far could we move the subject in his current condition?
The helicopter attempted a landing next to where we were, but the terrain was prohibitive, a large, snow-covered boulder on a slope by a creek. The helo then located a secondary location about a 10-minute hike downstream in a small gap in the forest. We assisted the subject to this location and loaded him while the helo hovered a few inches over the uneven ground.

Again, in-county training and experience kicked in as we approached the helicopter. From where did the pilot want us to approach? And foremost in my mind was how the uneven terrain would change the distance between our heads and the rotors. We crawled through the snow and intensely blowing rotor wash!

After the helo cleared the area, we grabbed our gear and the subject’s gear and high-tailed it back up the drainage while trying to coordinate responses of other teams to the first campfire location. The subject had given us very clear information about the youth's specific location and the Calaveras team knew just where to head.

As we met up with our first team of three that was investigating tracks leading up the side of the drainage, Jeremiah joined the two Calaveras members following tracks up the side of the drainage in another direction. About an hour later, this team located the deceased youth near another fire pit along the path of the tracks.

At this point, it was really getting dark, we were all getting tired and hungry, the multiple adrenalin rushes of the day had worn off, and I, for one, was very disappointed and saddened that we were unable to find the boy in time to save his life. We were facing a long and cold hike out of the backcountry through heavy snow along terrain that had already proved disorienting to one experienced team from another county.

We built a large warming fire at the location of the subject’s first camp, melted snow for water, ate what food we could manage, and gathered other teams to this location as an impromptu field staging and rally point. When relieved by another team (BAMRU), Jeremiah and the Calaveras searchers came down the side of the drainage and joined us, deputies from the local Sheriff’s Office and searchers from Marin at the campfire.

After this much-needed rest and mental refocusing and time to brief the deputy and coroner, we hiked back up to the main CP, passing a fresh recovery team coming down the “trail.” We checked in around 11 p.m., found a place to sleep in Bear Valley, then drove back to the OES Wednesday morning.

Key lessons
• Searcher fitness it critical – the first part of the day was roughly equivalent to the Diablo endurance hike (DEH). The hike out was like getting to the bottom of the DEH and turning around for a second lap. Jeremiah did the biggest day with his extra assignment up the mountain to the second find. We must be ready to respond at all times!

• Comms was a major challenge due to the distances involved, as well as the sensitivity of some information. We adapted use of the SPOT, satellite phone and our radios to work around these difficulties. The team members from BAMRU should be commended for their critical recognition of the poor radio conditions and their endurance as an impromptu and in-the-field radio relay.

• Be ready for the unexpected night out. We were one cloud-bank and one less helicopter away from having to care for a hypothermic subject throughout the night and perhaps into a second full day. We had ways to heat food, build fire, make good winter shelter, continue medical care, and maintain communication lines despite tough terrain and winter weather. Those with enough experience know that the gear we carry in county, as well as out of county, is there to serve a real-world, tested and critical role. Very little of our gear came back unused. And we were all very thankful to be in a position to provide it in a time of dire need.