Honoring Fellow SAR Members

The talent and dedication that this team exhibits on a daily basis is amazing. In 2012, over 41,000 hours of service was contributed by the team. These hours represent recruiting members for, training in preparation of, and responding to searches.  We call it dedication to mission – the “mission.”
It was in honor of the mission that we gathered together for the Sheriff’s Volunteer Services Banquet Feb. 15. At this event individuals from each of the units within Volunteer Services were recognized for individual achievement in their respective units. 
I had the honor of presenting several SAR members in their respective categories. While SAR is a team effort and we do not do this for individual accolades, with that said, we took the time to honor some deserving team members this year.
For me this is the toughest decision we make all year. The Command Staff reviewed and discussed over a dozen worthy individuals. All members considered in their own right could be, and should be recognized. Unfortunately we are limited in this situation. Next month we will be recognizing those members who received nominations and give them their due recognition.


SAR Explorer(s) of the Year

There was no way that we could have recognized one of the “Rescue Twins” and not the other this year. Casey and Micheal Riggs are the Co-Explorers of the Year. This is well-deserved recognition. The Rescue Twins participated in the most searches by the Explorers and contributed the most hours among the Explorers. Explorer Advisor Walt Eichinger writes, “They have positive spirit, they’re always eager to help and they have a strong desire to learn new things.”
Their participation in all aspects of the team is commendable. They attended 11 of 12 team trainings, numerous medical details, completed 80 hours of first responder training, proctored trainings and mentored new Explorers.  Additionally, they are training to be certified in USAR and the Type 1 resource. Their participation in all aspects of the team is commendable. The Riggs led all other Explorers in hours (Casey 491 Michael 483). The Rescue Twins are well deserving of the 2012 SAR Explorers of the Year.


2012 SAR Rookie of the Year

Ed Griffith has been selected as the SAR Rookie of the Year by his peers on the team. Ed graduated with the 2011 SAR Academy after retiring as a sergeant with the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office in 2010 after a 20-plus-year career.  Ed wasn’t ready for the life of golf and bridge clubs, so he sought out the team as the perfect service-oriented group for his background. (That and I think his wife Suzy needed to get him out of the house.)

From the start, Ed made a great impression on the team. His background and experience has been a huge plus for the unit. Ed’s quiet professionalism becomes readily apparent the more interaction you have with him. Whatever you ask of him, he’s willing to do to help out. Ed played a huge role in the 2012 SAR Academy acting as the Academy corporal. In this role he mentored, cajoled and sometimes “urged” students towards success. His dedication to the mission in his short time with the team makes him SAR Rookie of the Year.



SAR Member(s) of the Year


As has been the tradition in the past few years, we were able to select two members as SAR Member(s) of the Year. With over 200 people on the team and the incredible work put in by everyone this past year, I’d like to thank Wilma Murray and Tim Murphy for their great service this year.

Tim Murphy
Tim joined the team in 2010 with his fiancée Laura Carmody. From the beginning, Tim hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back. He was last year’s SAR Rookie of the Year. In 2012, Tim attended all 12 out of 12 monthly team trainings. He contributed over 800 hours of service to the SAR Team. And on top of this, when he’s not doing SAR, he also volunteers with the Sheriff’s Dive Team.
One of Tim’s primary focuses on the team is as one of the leaders of the Team’s Urban Search and Rescue Resource. This is a dedicated sub group on the team training for disaster response in preparation for when the “big one” hits. While there are several key people that make the USAR resource successful, Tim is an integral component. Tim has learned his craft and cross trained with local fire departments and he brings these skills back to train others on the team.  He consistently steps up and helps at various team trainings. When something needs to get done, he’s there to lend a hand.
If all this was not enough to keep Tim busy, in the past few months Tim embarked on training a canine to do search and rescue work. This is a huge commitment and once his training is completed, he will add another incredible resource to the team. Tim is always willing to lend a hand and to come in to OES on a moment’s notice and ensure our equipment is ready. His positive attitude, contribution to the mission and willingness to serve makes him a great SAR Member of the Year.
Wilma Murray
Wilma occasionally questions whether she has what it takes to perform what is expected of a SAR member … which I think is her way of disarming you. She is one of the most active members on the team. She, too, joined SAR out of the 2010 Academy along with her husband Paul and has made her mark on the team. (The 2010 academy produced some great members.) Not only is Wilma a fixture responding to searches, she participates in the USAR, man-tracking and metal detector resources. In 2012, she contributed over 600 hours of service to the team. 
Wilma is a key player in shaping the SAR team’s future. She currently helps run our new member recruiting and helps manage our monthly new member orientations. In addition, she plays a huge role in our coaching program, allowing our new volunteers to be actively engaged with team veterans to ensure they successfully integrate onto the team. Her drive to continue the growth of the team through quality new members is exemplary and demonstrates her commitment. 
Wilma is also the team’s recording secretary and resident newsletter editor and article enforcer. (She hounded me for two weeks for this month’s article … but I didn’t want her to get the scoop on this award!)
Two instances this year on searches show me how, even though she questions whether she is a SAR operator, she really is. Early in the year we conducted a very extensive search in Crockett for a despondent gentleman. Late in the day, one of our teams found the subject’s body inside a drain pipe with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Everyone was tired and facing the less-than-thrilling idea of a body recovery.
In preparation of fielding a recovery team, I asked the members on stand-by at the CP who could stick around and assist the coroner with the recovery. Wilma was the first to raise her hand and volunteer. It’s one thing to volunteer to search, it’s another to volunteer to bag a decomposing body and carry it out of a ravine. Like the others that volunteered, Wilma was an operator and helped us complete the task.
The other example was on New Year’s Eve a little over a month ago as we assisted Marin County with the search and eventual rescue of a wayward hiker on Mt. Tamalpais. The terrain was brutal and the victim had severe hypothermia. Getting to the victim was no easy task. Once the gentleman was packaged in the rescue litter, it took four-and-a-half hours to carry him out to where an ambulance could take him to the hospital. There was no way to airlift him out and there was no defined trail to on which to extricate him. It was all bushwhacking over very steep terrain.
This patient carry out was epic and required multiple rope raising and lowering systems, as well as good-old-fashioned manpower to hand carry the victim to safety. Wilma was there every step of the way. She was so focused on the extraction that near the end of the carryout a tree stump jumped out and tripped her and she went *** over tea kettle off the trail and landed in a blackberry bramble below. Not injured, she shook herself off, climbed back onto the trail and continued assisting with the carryout. If she ever doubted she is an operator, that night should give her the confidence to know she is.
Wilma, Tim the recognition of SAR Member of the Year is well deserved for both of you. Congratulations.


Special mention goes to SAR team members Andy Comly, who received the Reserve Deputy of the Year award, and Ed Molascon, who received the Volunteer Services Volunteer of the Year.  Both are incredibly dedicated and though their first home is SAR, have made great contributions to the Sheriff's Volunteer Program as a whole.
I want to thank everyone on the team for a great year of service and I look forward to working with you throughout 2013.


There is Honor in Hiding for the Canine Resource

By John Banuelos

As a hider, you are placed in an obscured and isolated location. A hider comes prepared for the duration of a hide with food, drink and weather appropriate clothing. Endless arrays of distant and familiar sounds, along with not-so-familiar sounds surround you. You acquiesce to the dependency that a dog and a searcher will find you.
Night prompts the notion that a hider’s location may truly be a secret place. There is only blackness and silence to keeps a hider company, punctuated by unfamiliar sounds. You hope for the familiar ring of the search dog’s bell.
As a hider, you experience what a lost subject would feel without the benefit of food, water or appropriate clothing. Team members Lisa McGraw and Danny Jaramillo have felt the lost subject experience often and sometimes in harsh conditions.
The Canine Resource wishes to thank both these members for their repeated contribution to the resource as hiders. Lisa and Danny have come out to hide in the worst of conditions and have endured long durations of isolation to help all six members of the Canine Resource.
When you see Lisa and Danny next, ask them about their experiences. Better yet, take the time to hide for our dogs. Gain a taste of what a lost subject feels, plus the exhilaration of being found.

Mission Summary: When Rigging Gets Real

By Matt Shargel

When the callout comes, you never know how it will turn out; we need to be prepared mentally, physically, and with gear and training at all times!  This year’s callout to Marin on New Year’s Eve was a reminder of this SAR truth.

Part 1 – The response to the subject
When the call came that the subject had been located and a carryout response was needed, CoCoSAR was first in line at the trailhead.  Team members opened the MRG truck and pulled out the gear.  The role of chief rigger was assigned and we grabbed the litter with backboard and straps, sleeping bag and blanket, the MRG rigging gear bag, and the two full-length rescue ropes.  Many hands made the work relatively light heading up the trail.  As the equipment and searchers reached the end of the path however, we realized the challenge we were facing.

The hike in consisted of 1) about a quarter mile of flat single-track pathway; 2) about a quarter of a mile of steeply off-angled dirt and rock-strewn stream bank; and 3) about a quarter mile of rocky, narrow, and flowing streambed.

Part 2 – Carryout along the streambed
Below you will find a description of the rigging for the middle, sloped stream bank section during the carryout.  To find out more about the first quarter mile of carryout through the flowing streambed you’ll need to talk with someone who was there; it is the stuff of legends and cannot be justly told on paper!

Part 3 – Rigging the traverse
Objective: Provide a running, belay-strength, hand line to protect the litter from a fall along a sloped side of a stream.  The line was rigged to guide pulleys attached to the upper hand rail of the litter.  Three rescuers, one at head, foot, and side, worked the litter down the steeply angled “pathway.”   And even these three had a hard time putting much force into the litter due to the steepness and narrowness of the terrain.

  1. One end of a 60m line was attached to a large tree growing in the middle of the stream, about 20 feet upstream of the litter.  A tensionless anchor clipped with a carabineer was used at about shoulder height. While we usually rig ropes lower to the ground for strength, the rope would be running up onto the stream’s hillside, so a higher anchor was needed.
  2. The rope was trailed down to the litter crew to rig the pulleys, then off the stream and up the bank a ways, heading downwards along the side-stream bank. 
  3. To protect against a fall down the bank and into the stream, several anchors were tied along the length of the rope.  Due to the limited and widely variable anchors, some rigging creativity was needed.  Several anchors were webbing wrapped around tree bases or thick branches.  A minimum diameter of four inches of healthy wood was a guiding principle when judgment of anchor strength became critical.   One anchor consisted of two lengths of webbing connected with a water knot in the middle.  The top was tied with a tensionless hitch around a tree about 40 feet above the hand-line rope.  The bottom had an overhand on a bight with a locking carabineer attached.  For one section particularly void of trees, a 4×4 wooden post and a piece of rebar were put into the system.  Clove hitches at the base of each gave them a combined strength.  A second 60m rope was tied in when the first ran out.  The terminus of the whole safety line, in an area again void of just the right tree, was the base of a large clump of what looked like elderberry and buck brush.  The difficulty in crawling around the base one time made the multiple wraps of a tensionless anchor prohibitive, so a bowline with its tail tied off would suffice. (“Better is the death of good enough!”)
  4. The traverse line also needed to be tensioned to minimize the fall distance in the event of a slip or drop of the litter team.  To provide this running tension, and to provide tied-off sections along the line, a munter hitch was used at many anchors.  Once tied, a few rescuers would haul on the running end of the rope, pulling slack out of the system.  The munter was then tied off, under tension, with a mule hitch, and backed up with a clipped carabineer.  In one or two spots, even this was not possible due to the combination of bushes and terrain so a simple butterfly knot sufficed.
  5. The last 100 feet of the side banked section involved a descent down to the waiting litter wheel.  This slope also had enough of an angle that we decided to include a second belay line, in addition to the first tensioned traversing rope.  Two riggers from Marin jumped in for the task, throwing a wrap three/pull two around a sturdy tree.  To the best of my foggy memory they used a scarab device for the lower … but that may have been just a dream …. In fact all of this record could fall into that category so you should probably fact-check it at our next team training with everyone else that was there!

Part 4 – The thank you’s
In the midst of the emergency there is such an awe-inspiring but often invisible chain of hands.  When the need arose for more webbing, or carabineers — poof!  They would appear.  When the litter had passed by a section — poof!  The ropes were derigged almost by magic.  When my footing was poor as I was tying a critical knot — poof!  Hands from below steadied me (their footing must have been even more unstable).  Snacks were shared – helmets, gloves, and goggles passed to those in need … poof, poof, poof.  And how much more goes unnoticed!   The honor of occasionally being the tip of the SAR spear requires reflection and recognition of the TEAM who puts us there.  Don’t we all hope to be those mysterious steadying hands, standing ankle deep in the stream holding someone else up?

CoCoSAR Snow and Ice Adventure

(Or, How a Zero-Degree Night Makes for Warm Friendships)

By John Banuelos

MRG members have been training for an MRA Recertification in Snow and Ice rescue for a number of months near Donner Pass. Todd Rogers, as the MRG operations corporal, decided to conduct an overnight snow-camping experience coupled with exercises in how to build emergency snow shelters on the weekend of Jan. 23 and 24.

Three members of MRG took him up on his offer (John Banuelos, Chris Coelho, and Matt Shargel), along with three Type 2 CoCoSAR members (Kristl Buluran, Pat Dodson, and Natalie Zensius) and two Type 1 members-in-training known as the Riggs twins – all giving up the warmth of their own beds to enjoy a frigid night on the snow.

As is the tradition of CoCoSAR, fellow team members helped make sure everyone was stocked with everything they would need for snow travel, including a proper shelter and a suitable sleeping bag. Kristl’s coach, Mark Sembrat, made every effort to properly gear his charge, which included a minus-20-degree bag. As it happened, Kristl was possibly too well geared, and an intervention was required to reduce her pack weight and equipment bulk. 

Post the S&I training, at 1600 hours Saturday, Todd gathered his band of eight and off we marched towards Castle Peak, in the Tahoe National Forest. With Matt and Todd at the lead, and I as the sweep, we covered lovely terrain while passing people on touring skis and snowshoes who were heading back to their cars. We pressed deeper over a snow-covered meadow and through the forest. While the dims lights of sunset helped maintain the views, it was clear that the growing dimness would soon bring a rapid drop in temperatures. 

We found a campsite just before dark and everyone prepared their place on the snow, pitched their tents, and readied for the night to come. Some tents would be shared, while others would have a single individual. One (unnamed individual) even pitched a simple but claustrophobic bivy. Eventually all of us gathered at a common site, our tribal response to the environment, to prepare meals and tell tales. Matt told his ghostly tales of searches from times past, somewhat embellished. Others merely chatted. It was our time to perform the campfire ritual that bonds a tribe and only the cold of the night drove us to our shelters. It would reach zero degrees before dawn. All were in bed by 2000 hours.

Some slept as cozy as at home. Others felt the chill despite their best preparations. Bottles of water froze. Each member faced a small crisis or two in the night, with the snow and cold increasing any discomfort. The warmth of the dawn sun would be most welcomed by all.

Todd, on the other hand, found a different way to warm all of us up: learning and preparing snow shelters.

Shovels in hand, after a lecture and examples of fine designs, we all began our constructions. Some were tragedies in the making, others would surely save a life, one was a virtual palace that could house several individuals. No matter the outcome of our designs, all members were fully warm as we spent hours digging and refining designs. Zero degrees, icy breathes and small discomforts became a distant memory.

As the sun truly began to warm the day, we broke camp and began our trek back to the vehicles. While not all had the best of nights, we all enthused about another night to camp in the snow. Why?  Everyone had new tales to share at the next gathering around a fire.

January Explorer Training

By Walter Eichinger

The Explorer Unit had a searcher safety and basic self-defense training at UFC Gym in Concord on Jan. 28. Nineteen Explorers joined advisors Walter Eichinger and Natalie Gore and trained with UFC Martial Arts instructor Marc Fickett for the two-hour training.

First discussed and reviewed were all the searcher-safety and team-safety techniques to use while out in the public and, in particular, in the late-night hours. We reviewed keeping a safe and proper distance from field interviews, knocking on doors when doing interviews, and keeping in contact both visually and verbally with fellow team members out in the field.

In the second half of the training, the Explorers participated in basic self-defense skills to better protect themselves and escape from an attacker. Kicking, punching and blocking techniques were taught, simultaneously providing a good workout.
Everyone survived the training in good health and a good time was had by all.

Searcher Spotlight: Natalie Gore

“Sometimes when the phones start ringing in my house, I think No, I don't want to go out into the cold!” Natalie Gore says. “But I pull myself out of bed (sometimes grumbling), get dressed and head out. I have never once on a search thought I wish I wasn't here. But there have been a few times I couldn't go and I thought I wish I was there.

That about sums up Natalie’s enthusiasm for the work. She may not have known quite what she was getting into when she joined the team in 2010, but she has certainly gotten into it – her face is familiar around OES and all Search and Rescue Team events.

Originally, she was looking for some way to volunteer her time, but it was hubby Andy Csepely’s idea to look into search and rescue. She came along to see what it was all about and they joined together. They make a dynamic, committed team, often travelling together to OES from their home in San Ramon several times a week to proctor, help with training or logistics, attend search management classes, and so on.

Natalie admits she’s not a particularly outdoorsy person and she’s often happier sitting alone crunching numbers, reading or working on one of her many crafts projects (the current passion is quilting) than interacting with lots of people. But she adjusts well when she’s in search-and-rescue mode, participating in the Hasty Squad, leading a training, coaching, or working with the Explorers.

“I try to stay positive, so I'd like to think I bring a little bit of encouragement to others,” she says. “I am also persistent – some may say stubborn. I think this is a good quality in a searcher.”

Natalie finished her bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Cal State East Bay after she joined the Search and Rescue Team, but continued to work in inside sales until December. At that time, she decided to go back to school and take the CPA exam so she can get her dream job in finance/accounting. “I am trying to take control of my career path,” she says.

Asked for her advice for other team members, Natalie says, “Don't be afraid to ask questions and talk to other members you don't know. Most people – if not all – are good people that really want to help. I feel like I learn something new at each training. Part of that is that there is so much to learn.” 

Is she glad she joined the team? “It's not always easy, but it is satisfying,” she says. “I may never find someone, but it won’t stop me from looking.”

Searcher Spotlight: Andy Csepely

Every time Andy Csepely hears the Beatles song “Help!” emanating from his phone, he gets excited, because the ringtone signifies a SAR callout. As Type 1 qualified and a member of the Hasty Squad, he hears that tone quite a bit, and he’s usually up for it.

That is, he’s up for it when he’s not obligated to be at one of his two paid jobs as an IT specialist and an Air Force reservist.         

Andy spent his early years in Germany and Hungary before moving to California in 1987, where he lived in the South Bay. He spent four years serving in the Air Force then he started his career in information technology while still maintaining his Air Force connection. He has been in the reserves going on eight years now and spent some of that time in Kuwait (2008) and Iraq (2010).       

Currently he works for ClubSport as the system administrator and he spends a weekend a month at Travis Air Force Base, where he has a variety of roles, including logistics, air transportation and emergency management.        

But, as if two “jobs” weren’t enough, Andy went looking for another activity in which to pour his (seemingly endless) energy and he found CoCoSAR. He and wife Natalie joined together in 2010.        

It was a good fit for someone who has camped and backpacked for most of his life and has extensive knowledge of radios, communications and much more (not to mention that energy).

“I consider myself a jack-of-all trades, master-of-none-kind of guy,” Andy says. “So I try to help where I can, and learn whenever possible.           

He’s also an adventurous soul who loves to ride motorized bikes (dirt or road).

Andy says he’ll always remember his first search as a fresh Academy grad – an out-of-county search for a mushroom hunter in a forest. “The subject was located alive and well, and it was amazing to see everything come together, including watching a Cal Fire crew cut a trail to the subject’s location in some heavy brush in a matter of minutes,” he says. “I was able to witness the search, the find, the extraction and the subject reuniting with his brother on that search … not a bad first callout.”           

Andy’s advice for SAR members serves as good advice in general: “Always trust your gut instinct and your training,” he says. “I’ve doubted my skills a few times at both trainings and on a search, and realized that I shouldn’t have. If something feels right, go with it. If something feels wrong, don’t ignore it.” 

Team Commendations, January







Command Staff has selected Matt Shargel and Rick Najarian for member recognition for the month of January. Matt and Rick's exceptional leadership and quick, critical decision-making on the New Year's Eve/Day search on Mt. Tamalpias was an inspiration. This was a technical carryout over wet and difficult terrain, involving setting fixed safety lines and awkward belay work. Their direction during this four-hour-long extrication process resulted in the successful packaging and safe transport of the subject to CP. It also required managing the safety and responsibilities of about 30 people, but Matt and Rick were always on top of the situation. Bravo Matt and Rick!

January Full Team Training: CPR

January’s monthly training was the full-team CPR training, an annual event, during which everyone took the American Red Cross CPR recertification exam. The rest of the time was split between a well-presented overview and demo by Mike McMillan, followed by numerous stations. Team members refreshed (or learned new) skills in infant and adult CPR, choking, using AEDs, and taking vital signs. All of these skills, like most of those learned for SAR, are perishable and need to be practiced often in order to be used with confidence when the need arises.