A Reputation Built on Experience

As we near the end of the year, I’d like to once again thank all of you for an outstanding year of service. With a little less than a month left in 2012, we’re on track for a slightly lower than average callout year.This past year we’ve had 47 callouts.

As you all know, training and planning takes much of your time to be mission-ready. When we combine training, planning and actual operations, the team has logged over 40,000 hours in service this year. This is an incredible number and a testament to your dedication to the mission. All 200-plus members participated at varying levels to make this a great year for the team.

Of the 47 missions, 16 were mutual-aid requests to counties other than Contra Costa. This number is slightly more than our average. The big difference was the number of Type 1 out-of-county calls the team responded to. Seven calls were true Type 1 calls. Over the past few years, the average Type 1 mission tempo has been two to three. I equate this increase to the team’s reputation and not to the number of opportunities.

More and more this year our team has been specifically requested by outside agencies to assist. This is a direct result of the hard work and professionalism the team lives by. The team’s reputation is a byproduct of that hard work.

We’ve had some pretty significant calls where the team truly made a difference in the outcome. Without going into details on each mission, I want to convey the appreciation the department has for your dedicated service. Every time you participate in a SAR event, you have the potential to make a difference.

A Search and Rescue career is based on education and experience. Active participation has a cumulative effect for every team member, whether a brand new academy student or a veteran with years of experience. It is one thing to take a class, but nothing beats the learning experience of a real-world search. When we call you out on a search, it’s because we need your help to come make a difference for the missing or at-risk person. When you do respond to the callout, you make an immediate impact on someone’s life, and while doing that, you learn and gain valuable experience to be better prepared for future missions.

The Origin of the Bloodhound on the Patch

By Myron Robb and Mike McMillan

The image of a bloodhound forms an important part of the Contra Costa County Search and Rescue Team’s shoulder patch. As Evan Hubbard wrote in the March 2010 issue of the Callout, an early revision to the patch (1979) added the bloodhound. Contra Costa SAR was the first search and rescue team in the state to use bloodhounds. Here’s how that came to be:In 1970, Myron and Judy Robb began raising bloodhounds in Walnut Creek, primarily as show dogs. In 1976, Judy, and friends Bev Mestressat and Lynn Hanson, were invited to give a working bloodhound demonstration to Contra Costa SAR. That demonstration was so effective, it led to the formation of the Sheriff’s Office bloodhound unit and by the end of the 1970s, the SAR team was organized into seven divisions: Bloodhound/Tracking, Communications, Equestrian, 4x4s, Medical, Support and Explorers.

The bloodhound unit’s third callout was for a high-profile case at the Lafayette Reservoir on Nov. 14, 1978, in which a 40-year-old female jogger went missing. Her car was found in the parking lot. Judy Robb and K9 Pita arrived at the search, but were unable to get a proper scent article, so Judy scented Pita off the woman’s car door handle.

After 20 minutes of trailing, the bloodhound led her to the woman’s body about 65 feet off the trail, concealed in heavy underbrush. Their excellent work on this case set the scene for a busy SAR career for Judy, Pita, and members of the CoCoSAR bloodhound unit and in 1982, Judy and Myron were named the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office volunteers of the year for their contributions.

From left to right: Lora Fults with Zack, Cindee Valentin with Annee, Carol McCoy Drolet with Tango, Eloise Anderson with Twist, Chris Boyer with Scout, Jenny Ward with Peaches, Carol Martin with Sammi, Joe Jacques with Hooter, Karen Mingus with Diablo, Ingela Tapper with Einstein, DeAnn McAllan with her dog, Bonnie Brown Cali with Aero, Candice Valentin with Tatum, and Carol O'Neil with Maggie. Kneeling in the center are Jacque Nushi with her dog and Judy Schettler with Callie.

In just a few years, the bloodhounds and their handlers became well known throughout the state. From this basis in bloodhounds, the SAR Canine Resource grew to include a number of breeds. In 1998, the resource included 16 handlers and at least five breeds, but it’s the bloodhound that remains the icon on the team’s patch. 

Myron retired in 1993 and he and Judy moved to a log home in the Ponderosa pine forests near Pioneer, Calif. Judy passed away in July 2010. Myron continues his interests in bloodhounds as second vice president of the American Bloodhound Club and treasurer of the northern chapter of Bloodhounds West. Mike is a member of CoCo SAR and is raising Baskerville, a bloodhound puppy.

In The Beginning: How The CoCoSAR Team Got Its Start

Over the years, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team has evolved from a small group of eager citizen volunteers from a local Jeep club, to a full-scale, 200-plus-member team of well-trained professional volunteers. A quick look back at some of the things that have changed gives some perspective to how much the team has grown, and not just in numbers.

A Brief History
In the mid-1960s, under the direction of Sheriff Reserve Coordinator Sergeant Herman Rellar, Contra Costa County formed the first version of a county search and rescue team. The fledgling group was composed of the Sheriff’s posse, a Sheriff’s Ranger equestrian group, and the Air Squadron Aviation group. It consisted of about 75 Reserve Deputies. In reality, this was not an official search and rescue team, nor did it operate as such. There was no real organization (as is the standard today), and when it came time for a search, there was no formal callout procedure to activate its members.

Due to its ineffectiveness, the unit was disbanded in the late ’60s. But Sergeant Rellar was unwilling to give up. He believed there was a real need for a volunteer team with four-wheel-drive vehicles to go off road to assist the Office of the Sheriff in finding lost and injured people. So, in the early 1970s, he was put in charge of a new Search and Rescue Team. By 1974, what is now known as the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team (CoCoSAR) officially began.

While Rellar was the impetus for the team from the Sheriff’s Office side, team founder Ed Besse was the driving force behind CoCoSAR from the volunteer side. Besse was tasked with building the program and he did so by recruiting through two local 4×4 clubs, the Diablo Four Wheelers and the Contra Costa Jeepers. Besse also hooked up with a local amateur radio group called REACT (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams), a group that eventually evolved into the current RACES program. The SAR Team was made up of off-road enthusiasts and CB radio enthusiasts in its early years.

Moving Forward
While the science and business of Search and Rescue has drastically changed from the early days, some things have not changed; the team still prides itself on its professionalism and takes the job seriously. Management and technology improvements (and hard-earned experience) have increased the professionalism and team capabilities to new heights. But one thing remains true: It is the SAR volunteer that ensures the team’s success.

A little over 10 years ago, the team still relied primarily on team members’ personal vehicles and gear to respond to searches. Through active department support and fundraising, the team now has an incredible cache of gear and department-owned vehicles solely dedicated to Emergency Services. The communications equipment, computer technology and team infrastructure is world-class and has truly evolved over the past decade.

In the early years, the department vehicles the team had were donated vehicles from other agencies. As you can imagine, they took a lot of TLC to be maintained. The first official county vehicle for SAR tech rescue use was a 1957 panel truck dubbed the “Jimmy.” (The Callout issue of February 2010 has a story about the Jimmy. See the archives on the website.)The first communications van was a hand-me-down standard van from Chevron. And there was a 1969 Power Wagon affectionately dubbed “Rescue 1.” While a powerhouse of an off-road vehicle (when working), it more often then not broke down in the field and needed towing back to the corp yard for repair.  Rescue 1 was actually often rescued itself.

The days of hand-me-down vehicles are over and in the past decade we’ve been afforded a variety of new and re-purposed vehicles that give the team a strong fleet with which to perform the SAR mission.  In the old days, we as a team would have been ecstatic to receive vehicles such as our current 12-year-old Expeditions. Soon they will be traded out for brand new F250 quad cabs.         

The SAR patch has undergone only two alterations since its inception. The emblems on the patch represent a variety of SAR disciplines from the early days of the team.  (The Callout issue of March 2010 has a detailed story about the patch.)  These alterations were the result of the team’s evolution. 

One thing that hasn’t changed since the early days is the team’s appreciation for the canines, even though the training and personnel have changed over time. In this issue is the article "The Origin of the Bloodhound on the Patch," which talks specifically about the team’s use of bloodhounds in search and rescue and gives a better understanding of why the bloodhound is featured on the patch we wear today. 

We'll present other aspects of the team’s beginnings in future Callouts.

Thanks to Barb Becerra for her research. Barb has spent many hours chatting with long-term and former team members to learn about the team’s history.

Logging Your Hours – Why It Counts

Though it may not seem like it, one of the most important things we do (and apparently most difficult for some team members) is log volunteer hours. From the very early days of the Academy, new members are told to keep track of their hours and then enter them into the database on the website.

Why do we do this? Logging hours provides a means for record-keeping and, at the end of the year, all those hours are compiled and presented to the Office of the Sheriff. The hours demonstrate both how much time team members contribute and how that time is distributed. Last year, CoCoSAR members put in some 40,000 hours!

Included in this record-keeping is a way to determine whether or not members are maintaining their expected contribution of 10 hours per month (averaged throughout the year), and how many searches and trainings each member attends. Those who fall behind will receive “counseling” to address any concerns and after a period of time, if the hours do not pick up, those individuals are asked to leave the team.

Because members sometimes are confused about what hours to log – how many and for what activities – it helps on occasion to clarify the terms. As Capt. Kovar has stated, “People should use their best judgment when logging hours.”

That said, the following are legitimate activities to be logged:

  • All searches, from “portal to portal,” which means from the time you leave your home/office (or wherever) until you return (discounting any stops for non-SAR business)
  • All trainings as above, from portal to portal
  • All hours spent proctoring an event, as above
  • All approved and/or calendared activities that are undertaken, such as planning meetings, writing for the Callout, building items for USAR trainings, helping with logistics, hiding for the dogs, etc.
  • All Command Staff and staff meetings
  • All calendared T-1, 2 or 3 hikes, whether as an official hike participant or not

The following should NOT be logged:

  • Hours studying for EMR or any other at-home practice
  • Time shopping for or packing up/rehabbing gear
  • Social events (whether calendared or not)

The other issue some members have is in deciding under which category to log items. It is important not to lump times for separate activities together. If, for instance, you go on a training that then morphs into a search, be sure to separate those hours and log them appropriately. Planning meetings would be considered “staff functions,” as would writing Callout articles. Hiding for the dogs, logistics, etc. would fall under the category of training. And so on. Be specific in your description, as well, such as “Lucido search,” rather than simply “search” and “USAR monthly training” rather than just “training.”

Get in the habit of logging hours right away after an activity if you have easy access to the website. Or, if you don’t, keep a simple written log by your gear that you update as soon as you return from each event. Then just be sure to upload the info every couple of weeks at least. It only takes a few minutes to stay on top of it and you’ll be glad you did.

Full-Team Training, November

November’s full-team training at the Sheriff’s Range was a first on several fronts: With 117 SAR members and an assortment of non-SAR Reserve members, the numbers rose to over 130 for the event, making this the largest training yet. It was also a first in combining the two units in a training (SAR and Reserves) and for the content, which was geared predominantly toward firearm awareness and safety.

Members who had never handled a gun had the opportunity to shoot (with careful supervision). Others who had experience with guns tested their aim in a timed match. But it wasn’t all guns – there were stations covering officer safety, personal safety, and several medical stations, including one that focused on officer-specific medical scenarios. A social time with a barbecued lunch provided by Office of the Sheriff volunteer food service workers and an enthusiastic motivational speech by Assistant Sheriff Sean Fawell made the day complete.

USAR Training Recap

On a blustery, wet day November 10th, 23 USAR Resource members gathered at Rock City for an intensive five hours of rope training. Though cold and soggy, this hardy group kept to the schedule to stay the course for the 2012 USAR curriculum.
This training represented a significant milestone for the USAR Resource, marking a shift (over the past two years) from a skills focus to an operational focus. Whereas previous trainings relied on heavy instruction and repetition, mainly covering individual aspects of rope rescue, the November training put it all into action. All the rope rescue curriculum's collective skills (beginning to end) were deployed for operational sequence, details and cadence.
For a few of the senior members of the team, additional attendant instruction was given in a high-angle context. For others who were new to rope rescue (or needing a refresher course), Laishan Yee and Vince Kwan led a thorough point-by-point explanation of the systems.
The training concludes the formal USAR trainings for 2012, and Jeremiah Dees, Tim Murphy and Steve Filippoff are getting busy planning for 2013.

Searcher Spotlight: Nancy Hoffman

One SAR member offers a unique presentation at the academy that few – if any – other SAR members would be as qualified to give. When it comes to legal ramifications of the rescue portion of SAR, Nancy Hoffman has the credentials to shed light on such things as the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the Good Samaritan laws. As a registered nurse AND an attorney AND an assistant professor, she has a good understanding of such things.

Nancy grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and Oak Ridge, Tenn. She attended nursing school in Cincinnati and completed her bachelor’s degree at Holy Names in Oakland. As a Navy Nurse Corps officer stationed in the Philippines, she provided medical services to the U.S. Marines, serving 21 years as both active and reserve, and then was recalled for Desert Storm.

Adding to her skills as a nurse, Nancy obtained her law degree from Golden Gate University and now works as an assistant professor and coordinator of Health Sciences at CSU Eastbay while maintaining a small legal practice in healthcare law, risk management and estate planning.

But while that surely means for a busy life, it wasn’t enough. Maintaining that it is one's responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the community, Nancy chose to be involved with SAR, believing her skill sets to be applicable.

Nancy joined CoCoSAR in 2010. One particular point has stood out to her in her almost-three years as a SAR member: “As I learned in the Navy, teamwork is everything,” she says.

Nancy lives in Brentwood with Connie, her longtime partner. She thrives on spending time with her daughter’s two children. She also loves hiking in the woods and gets her musical fix by playing rhythm guitar and singing in a small band.

Not long ago, she was late to a family get-together and her grandson, Jace, greeted her by asking if she had been out with SAR. When she said she had, Jace said, “Bella (Nancy’s granddaughter) told me you were doing search and rescue. She said if a little boy gets lost, his parents can call you and your friends and you will go find him and bring him home so no one is sad.” 

Then he announced that he wanted to do that when he grows up.  

“That encounter seemed to sum up SAR,” Nancy says. “Service to community and a good example of community involvement for future generations.”

Searcher Spotlight: Chris Coelho

After he took on and completed the Type 1 hike (DEH) immediately after finishing the Type 2 hike recently, it would appear Chris Coelho lives up to his name (Coelho means "rabbit" in Portuguese).

It is also an apropos moniker since he grew up on a Brentwood farm, raising animals and growing food. That background taught Chris to value the environment.

 “As a kid, I learned early on how connected we are to this planet and how our actions and choices we make have consequences,” he says.

His respect for nature and the wilderness carried into his college studies at Chico and Davis, and continued on into his current career in environmental and public health.

It was also a natural segue into SAR.

But it wasn’t only love of nature that brought him into the spring 2010, aka “wet” Academy – he also had the common SAR desire to help others. And he stays motivated by memories of his grandfather, who had Alzheimer’s and was a recurrent walkaway.

“Fortunately he was found often a few hours later,” Chris says. “But experiencing, at a young age, the stress of someone missing sticks with you.”

Chris has attained Type 1 status and plans to help other team members get there. “When we go on multi-agency searches into counties whose entire SAR team may be just 10 people, it is crucial that people in Contra Costa County step up and help out,” he says. “We can do so much to help and we've got some of the greatest instructors to learn from. … It is not only important to our community, but it really is an asset to the state.”

Chris lives in Pleasant Hill with his wife, Cindy, whose support, he says, enables him to be involved with SAR. When he’s not busy with the team or searches, Chris climbs and works out at the Diablo Rock Gym, rides his bike, or enjoys the outdoors via camping or backpacking. He also enjoys traveling, specifically to Central and South America, and bills himself as a “connoisseur of yeast-fermented beverages.”   

He offers a few pieces of advice for SAR members, culled from his experience. The first is simple: Buy gaiters.

But he also says he has learned it is best not to try and do everything, which could lead to burnout.  “There are a lot of things that can be done in SAR and you don't need to rush it all.            

“And last,” he adds, “one of the most valuable pieces of wisdom is to do whatever Kovar says.”  

CoCoSAR Division Highlights, November 2012

November was a welcome relief from the abundance of activity in October. While there was only one mission and no recurring major trainings, the Operations Section maintained an active profile within the divisions.

11/06 – T-1 and T-2 MP search/Santa Cruz County (subject located deceased).


- Conducted a joint USAR/MRG rope training on Mt Diablo in the rain with over 20
  attendees. First-time introduction to high-angle systems including line attendants.
- Tim Murphy replaced Ed Perez as Training Corporal.

- Snow & Ice team started preparation and planning for 2013 recertification
- Conducted several qualifying T-1 (DEH) hikes
- Prepared prototype MRG Deployment Checklist.

Conducted full-team training in conjunction with Operations Division and Reserve Deputies focusing on safe weapons handling and medical procedures. Over 135 participants and included a barbecue.


- Continues to train twice weekly and employ team members as “hiders.
- Members completed committee work in drafting resource P&P manual and are
  currently working on the Training Manual draft.

- Held an intricate map and compass, GPS, geocache training throughout the
  Martinez hills.
- Held a social event at the Brenden Theatres in Concord.

- Planned and organized a team-wide social event at Brenden Theatre on December 5th. 
- Worked with the Training Division on marketing Type 2 hikes
- Maintained team roster, hours tracking and databases

- Started new comms trailer project
- Reprogrammed all BK radios so Tac 4 and repeater are on the same bank. This will
  make it easy to switch to the repeater frequencies during operations.
- Three new high-gain antennas were built.  Logs team trained on assembly and
   deployment of them.  Antennas used during UNO. These high-gain antennas are kept in
   the I.C. trailer until the new comms trailer is ready.
- Gas cans, radios and other equipment was rehabbed.  Both connex containers were
- Type 2 Academy and UNO supported with logistics and proctors.
- Keys to the Kingdom class supported.
- Logistics had a station at this month’s training on deployment of the comms van and the
  I.C. trailer to include setting up of equipment.

Mark Wilfer, for an interim period, has transferred Callout editorial supervision to Wilma Murray. Production of the Callout will continue with Pierce Plam and Natalie Zensius.