By Joe Keyser
Command Staff is pleased to select these two team members for November Member Recognition;
Bob is commended for his tireless work as the Medical Sgt. for CoCoSAR. His leadership in organizing, recruiting and executing over 12 Medical Support Missions for various events during the year has been outstanding. These Medical Missions places our SAR Team in the spotlight among our community; Bob’s work has been professional and very much appreciated!
Chris is a very active SAR Team Member and has just been appointed the Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) Lead for the team. His past work as the MRG Logistics has greatly enhanced the readiness of that group for future missions. Chris was also a proctor for the recent Wilderness Emergency Medical Responder (WEMR) Class.
By Randy Franks
The fewer hours of daylight in fall and winter increase the likelihood of searching in the dark. With Standard Time bringing the onset of darkness even earlier, Contra Costa Search and Rescue used its November full-team training to conduct a nighttime mock search.
Wilma Murray developed the scenario, which was conducted on the Muir Heritage Land Trust’s Fernandez Ranch open space. Scouts and parents from Boy Scout Troop 277 and a few other willing individuals volunteered as the subjects and their distraught families, earning praise all around for not only the commitment of their time, but also well-acted roles and valuable observations during the after-action debrief.
“The guy we found, Graham, I figured he was playing the autistic boy we were briefed to expect,” said Don Kavanagh. “But a couple different times during the rescue, I thought ‘Is he actually autistic?’ He was into it, very well done.”
The scenario involved a small group of 12 and 13 year old boys who ventured into the hills to launch homemade rockets. The volatile fuel source detonated unexpectedly, causing a range of injuries and disorientation. As dusk descended on the hilly 700-acre preserve, CoCoSAR deployed first a hasty squad and then as a full team.
The team used its full range of techniques. The first mission was a hasty search of the Command Post and immediate surroundings, which located one of the subjects in good condition within 20 minutes. He was less than 100 feet from CP, but completely hidden from view.
Team lead Brad Schimek was pleased. “It’s my first find!” he said. “Even though this is ‘just training,’ I’m genuinely proud we found him so quickly.”
Wilma Murray said later, “I placed that subject expecting he would either be found immediately or possibly not at all. I’m pleased that the team did its job and searched the CP. It is not unknown for a subject to be found very close to where searchers gather and still go unfound for several operational periods.”
Some of the team’s specialized resources and equipment were brought to bear on the missions. “[Search dog] Shannon did some good work tonight,” said handler Jennifer Wright. “It turned out our search area did not have any subjects, so no finds, but we were working well together.”
The FLIR night vision goggles were also deployed with John Banuelos’ admonishment: “The subject or clue could be behind heavy foliage, so you’ve still got to be observant. It’s night vision, not x-ray vision.”
Many new Type 2 and Type 3 team members participated. This was their first opportunity to employ new skills in a full-team environment and discover that SAR is “continuous learning.”
Luigi Pangilinan became a debriefer, a role he had only heard about during the academy, but had not experienced nor specifically trained for. “It was difficult, getting detailed accounts of search areas, especially when the team was not provided a map,” he said. “And I got cold sitting there. I really wanted go out on a mission, just to warm up.”
Another lesson emerged from the night’s last find, made by Team 17. After assisting with a live medical event involving a parent volunteer observer, the team resumed its training assignment, making many voice callouts, hearing cries for help, but not locating any subjects within their search area.
Team lead Robert Medearis said, “As we were preparing to return to CP, our navigator was focusing on getting us back onto the trail. The other three of us continued the search behind our navigator. Routine visual sweeps identified the subject down near a large oak tree.”
Cameron Soo, handling medical for the team, said it demonstrated how “we’ve got to stay sharp at all times, like on the return to CP. The assignment was covered, but the search was obviously still on.”
During the team debriefing, Operations Lieutenant Chris Nichols summed up the basic message of the night’s training. “Searching in the dark is hard,” he said to a murmur of assent, “and, this time of year, we should expect to do a lot more of it.”
By Patrick Dodson
What do SAR members think about while waiting in the staging area for an assignment? Maybe, did I bring the right gear; am I wearing the right clothing, what will the terrain be like; will I be the one to make the find?
Phil Novak and I were huddled under a tarp in Del Norte County, trying to avoid the rain, thinking about these things when we were confronted with the real reason we were there. A friendly young woman who introduced herself as “the daughter” came up to thank us for volunteering our time to the search effort.
She had traveled from San Diego to our location 20 miles south of the Oregon border to be present as SAR teams staged a search for the remains of her father, a man known to us as the “mushroom picker.” He had disappeared the previous January while searching for mushrooms with friends. This was to be a last-ditch effort to find his remains before the winter weather set in.
This young woman wanted to express her gratitude and tell us what it meant to her. She was amazed that people from throughout California would give up their weekends to search in difficult weather and terrain for a man they didn’t know.
As she spoke, it was clear that it was important to her that we knew about the man for whom we were looking. She was very proud of her father’s accomplishments in life. How else would we have learned we were searching for a man who was a world-class surfer? She was also very open about his challenges and the complexities of their relationship.
She looked at this event as a means of bringing closure to her father’s life and their relationship. She stated that no matter the results of our search, our efforts brought honor and respect to his life, and brought her a great deal of comfort.
This conversation brought Phil and I out of our concerns about the practical and tactical issues related to searching for the “subject” and made us reflect on the reason we do this. We were looking for a real person, with a life and a family, not just a picture on a flyer. The efforts of the searchers demonstrated the value and respect we all gave to this man’s life, and to the needs of the family.
We felt honored to be a part of helping the daughter deal with one of the most difficult times in her life. It took a young woman in the forests of Northern California to remind us that the importance of our mission extends far beyond search tactics and gear. Our conversation with her was the greatest reward we have had as members of CoCoSAR.
By Wilma Murray
Here’s a comment that I’ve been hearing a lot lately: I’d like to get more involved in SAR, but I don’t know where to begin. Hmm…attend any team business meeting on the first Wednesday of each month (1930 at OES) and you will most likely hear a plethora of needs announced. Look at the website, read the Callout … you will find there are activities going on behind the scenes every day.
As someone who likes to get into the middle of things, I know a little about involvement (you think?) and am happy to share some tips, both for newbies and for those who are finding themselves with a little more time of late and want to invest it in their SAR “career.” First off: It is not necessary to have a rank (corporal, sergeant, etc.) to take on important SAR jobs, so waiting for that open staff spot isn’t a prerequisite to getting going. What’s more important to consider are the answers to these questions:
- Do you have ideas/passion/drive for a particular aspect of SAR?
- What skill sets and talents do you bring to the table?
- Who might you like to work for and with?
All of these answers are things to examine when looking to find your niche.
It also isn’t necessary to be more than a Type III to become involved. Type III searches don’t come around as often as we all might like, which means Type IIIers don’t see as much action for callouts. But there is still plenty to do to benefit the team and keep it mission-ready. Resources The most obvious choice is to join a resource. While some resources require a Type I or II status, both USAR and the Metal Detector resources do not, and both resources are active. (In fact, the Metal Detector Resource has had a trio of recent searches.) Check the calendar on the website for trainings, but in general, USAR trains the third Saturday of the month and Metal Detector Resource trains the last Monday evening of the month. All levels of skills and capabilities are involved with both resources and both offer bottom-to-top training.
Tracking is another resource that is busy most of the year, with many Wednesday clinics, and is open to Type III members. Tracking Sergeant John Banuelos is always looking for enthusiastic Tracking Academy graduates to help lay tracks for these clinics. The Academy is held each year in the summer (dates tentatively June 17, 18, 19 – continue to check the calendar), but on occasion the Tracking sergeant will conduct mini-clinics on tracking skills and search tactics for those who have not yet attended the Tracking Academy.
Although it’s a rare team member who will have the opportunity to train his/her own dog for the Canine Resource, all team members are welcome to participate in that training. Every week, twice a week, the canines train and on each of those occasions, the trainers seek hiders. The reward for this contribution may be a big warm slobbery kiss (no, not from the trainers), as well as the good feeling of having helped to develop excellent four-legged team members.
Within each resource there is always a need for hands-on help with the logistics of that resource and in ideas for training and sometimes administrative help. Check with any staff person and there is probably some way you may be able to help. Raised hands are seldom turned down!
A truly important way to get involved is in helping with trainings. The full-team trainings are the primary way team members are trained to core skills and in support of that mission, the Training Division is actively recruiting to build out its team. Ways to help could be anything from driving a van the day of the event, to coming up with suggestions and ideas for implementation of various trainings, to planning and presenting a mock search – the range is wide, as is the need. Training Division meetings are held on the first Monday evening of each month (which is often, but not always, the Monday prior to the training). Check the calendar and just show up. You can observe without commitment until you get comfortable. To jump in now, simply contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Training Lieutentant Andy Comly is willing to redirect those willing to help in other divisions, as well.
Speaking of training … proctoring is an excellent way to support the team and beef up your skills at the same time. EMR and Academy proctoring are key to the success of the program. Proctors are also used during each month’s training events and are vital to making the training program work. If you don’t understand what it means to be a proctor, check out the Callout article on proctoring from April 2011.
The Logistics group is always looking for more hands-on helpers, as well. Both skilled and unskilled labor are welcome for the frequent “rehabbing” that needs to be done – getting equipment and supplies ready for the next search, training or medical event and cleaning up from same. Lifting, moving and transporting supplies and equipment is one side of it, but those who simply like to tidy up and organize can also be put to good use.
The logistics of the Medical side of the house also could use help. After every medical event or training, there are many re-organizational tasks that are necessary. And before every medical mission there is a lot of prep work to do. During the EMR class, the need for help is weekly – Mondays and every other week Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well. In matters of communications, there are, again, a variety of ways to get involved.
The Comms Group works in developing ways to improve communications for searches and training. Bring your ideas and skills to that table if you have them or just come and learn how things work.
The IT folk work hard to improve methods for myriad search and training tasks, from printing maps to downloading GPS tracks to uploading GPS tracks. If you have a gift for or interest in technology, check in with them.
The New Members crew welcomes help from February through the fall with a number of activities and tasks. Attending orientations (the first Thursday of each month through June) and lending support there is most appreciated. Other needs include help with paperwork; for uniform sizing and dissemination; and with meeting, greeting and helping to shepherd new Academy students at trainings prior to the Academy when students are observing or role-playing.
There are public relations events throughout the year that can use people who enjoy conversing with anyone who comes to the table to learn about CoCoSAR. Again, ideas for improving the process are always needed and invited. The team is constantly on the lookout for ways to bring in money to help build programs and purchase equipment.
Fundraising is key to that, whether through grant writing, corporate-giving programs or other fundraising events. The Finance group welcomes all comers who can offer expertise or a simple willingness to help.
The website is about to be reworked and there will definitely be a need for help and suggestions as it undergoes some upgrading. And the Callout staff is always (always!) seeking more people to write articles or help in other ways. If you can’t write, perhaps you are a great photographer and can supply much-needed photos for stories. Or maybe you are adept at WordPress and can help in that way.
And let’s not forget the social side. If you are someone who enjoys people, you can use your skills for SAR Social events. At present, the team has focused on an annual picnic and holiday party, but the options are open for more ideas for those willing to take the lead.
The list goes on and on, but hopefully, you get the drift. Searches or no searches, the team takes a village to run. Every team member who steps up and adds his/her time and energy to any and all tasks helps keep the team the strong unit that it is. Touch base with your coach or take a look at the current organizational chart on the website documents page and find the staff member connected to the area that interests you; you’ll find a way to add your talents to the mix. Want to get involved? All you have to do is ask ….