MAMFF Meets USAR

On Feb. 27, 15 team members spent their morning with the Mutual Aid Mobile Field Force (MAMFF) teaching some 60-plus members of various law enforcement agencies how we at CoCoSAR conduct USAR rescues. At six stations, SAR members either proctored or performed the roles of subjects so that MAMFF participants could get some hands-on experience.

Stations included how to conduct a hasty search and mark the buildings; structure triage and recon; patient packaging; and three stations each employed one aspect of the ladder-rescue system.
 
The event was well-received and all good intentions lean toward another paired training in the future.

 

February Full Team Training: Mock Search

This year’s nighttime mock search training took place Feb. 9 in Morgan Territory. The training was developed by Explorer Patrick Walker as part of his endeavor to become an Eagle Scout. With the help of mentor Joe Keyser, Patrick set up a search scenario involving a plane crash with multiple subjects.

At one point, three rope rescue teams were employed, and medical skills came into play. The equestrians got an opportunity to enhance their training, as did some newcomers to the Command Post. All subjects were found and returned to base (searchers, too), even though the team learned that communications at Morgan Territory can be sketchy, at best.
 

Team Commendations, February 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together Patrick Walker, who took the lead, and Joe Keyser, who offered mentoring, put together a challenging and interesting night mock search team training for February. This is no easy task. Patrick built a "plane" (or parts of it) to use for a crash scenario and gathered friends and family to act as subjects. This was an inventive project and as anyone who has ever put on a training knows, took a lot of work and organization. Kudos to Patrick and Joe for their efforts.

Recommended Hike: Surprised by Goldfish

Mt. Diablo/Burma Road to the summit

By Patrick Walker

There are plenty of trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Diablo, but if you are looking for a beautiful and strenuous hike, this one is for you.

Start by driving approximately 2.5 miles up Northgate Road past the gate to enter the state park. If you see a huge hill with a trail straight up it, you are at the right place. Start heading up the hill on Burma Road Trail.

Once you reach the top of the hill, keep going straight onto Angel Kerley Road Trail. You will come upon some trees with a small trail just past them leading to the left; take this trail (Mothers Trail).

After some steep switchbacks you reach a goldfish pond. (Yes, it's full of goldfish. Don't ask why.) Continue on up the trail and you'll eventually reach Deer Flat Road Trail, which leads you straight to Juniper Campground.

Find the summit trail and you'll be at the top of Mt. Diablo in no time!

 Miles: 4.25
 Elevation Gain: Approx. 3,000 feet
 Time: Less than 3 hours
 Difficulty: Medium
 

Have a favorite hike? Tell the team about it. Send your ideas to the Callout staff.

Maintaining MRA Accreditation: Snow and Ice

By Joe Keyser

The CoCoSAR Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) participated in the annual Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) reaccreditation at June Mountain Ski Resort in the town of June Lake on March 2. (The MRA requires reaccreditation in one of three core skills every year; this year it was snow and ice rescue.)

Sixteen CoCoSAR team members gathered at the resort with the goal of maintaining CoCoSAR's MRA certification. They were among more than 20 teams from all over the California region seeking reaccreditation. 

CoCoSAR has been training since November on Mt. Diablo and at Donner Pass in order to perfect skills in the two disciplines the team was required to demonstrate at June Lake: avalanche rescue and technical snow and ice rescue systems. To test the team's ability with technical snow and ice rescue systems, two observers accompanied the team up a 35- to 40-degree snow slope to a GPS location. At this time, the observers designated a random team member as the subject to be lowered about 500 feet down to a road. The team quickly assessed snow conditions, built anchors (in terrible snow), assembled main and belay systems, and assessed and packaged the patient and lowered him down the slope.

Next the team was required to locate a buried avalanche beacon in a simulated avalanche area in 20 minutes or less. It took the team about 20 minutes to prove conclusively, using transceivers and a grid search, that there was no beacon buried in the assigned area. After event organizers did a quick huddle, they realized CoCoSAR's beacon was buried in a different avalanche zone. Once directed to the right avalanche zone, the team found its beacon (and a second buried for another team) in half the required time limit.

The two proctors assigned by the MRA to observe the team came away very impressed by the teamwork, knowledge, and skills displayed by CoCoSAR team members. The proctors passed the team on both stations. Overall the event was an excellent opportunity for the team to show off its technical rescue skills, network with other SAR teams from around the state, and certify its standing as one of the premier search and rescue teams in California.


Pictures courtesy of Karen Najarian:

Searcher Spotlight: David Cossu

Team members may not hear much from David Cossu, but he gets things done with a quiet efficiency. As a network consulting engineer for a large telecommunications company, he has some specific skills to offer and, if asked to use his expertise in the technical realm, he’s on it – helping to print out maps during a search or figuring out how to import a photo of a subject for dissemination, for example.

Last year, David earned member recognition for the month of May because of his help resolving a longstanding issue with network communications for several of the team's most critical search tools.

Prior to his work in telecommunications, David served in the Army for almost four years. During that time he lived in and traveled to a wide variety of places and enjoyed learning the history from each locale.

But despite living for some time back east, as well as in Turkey and Germany, he settled close to his roots – which were in Fairfield. He now lives in Walnut Creek with wife DeeAnna and three kids (not to mention a dog, cat and six chickens with possibly a rabbit on the way).

When David is not volunteering his time, he spends it with his kids and their activities. He also likes to ski, fish, river raft and hang out with friends over a good barbecued meal.

David joined CoCoSAR in the fall of 2010. He was looking to volunteer his time to something he felt “was meaningful and had a strong purpose and goal,” he says. After the orientation, he says, he was also attracted to the structure and the importance of the role SAR played in the community.

While bringing teamwork as well as technical skills to the team, David also continues to explore learning new things. He says he wants to continue to become more versatile and useful in different team capacities.

Three simple truths he says he has learned so far:

1.     You are not getting a call in the middle of the night from the Sheriff’s Office because someone just wants to chat with you, or they’re bored and have nothing better to do.

2.     When able, always check and see if you are needed to swing by OES to pick up a vehicle

3.     Make sure you have a dry pair of socks in your pack at all times.

David says he has been impressed with how well CoCoSAR members conduct themselves during multi-agency, out-of-county efforts, and “the high level of professionalism that is demonstrated at all times.” In particular, he points to the recent Mt. Tamalpais extrication and the leadership, knowledge and dedication that made the mission a success.

“Let me just say this, our Type 1’s just rock, with the directions they provided and rigging up of the several safety lines during the recent Stinson Beach callout – and under considerable stress, I might add,” David says. “(It was) nothing short of remarkable and inspiring … it was a New Year’s Eve/Day that I will not soon, if ever, forget.

“If I had to pass something along, I would say any efforts you are making to maintain your level of physical conditioning while in SAR does pay dividends, and really does pay off in some of these environments we are asked to operate in.

“It continues to be both an honor and privilege to serve as a member of the team with such a dedicated and professional, able-bodied group of people sharing in these common goals.”

Searcher Spotlight: Lana Gorina

One paragraph of self-description tells a large volume of what one might expect from Lana Gorina. She says: “My skills are best described as canine traits: high drive, energy, tenacity, well-socialized, friendly, likes food and toys, loves people and other dogs, curious and fairly brave, solid bite inhibition (one would hope), exposed to many environments/cultures/people, well-educated and properly trained. A few issues with basic obedience, but it's a work in progress.”

Lana’s canine references are apt, because it was her shepherd that motivated her to join CoCoSAR and Mila (pronounced Mee-la) is currently in training as a trailing dog with the Canine Resource.

That Lana has a sense of humor is evident the moment one meets her, just as it’s evident that she is not at all shy. The Academy of 2011, which she attended, heard from her early – and often.

Born in the former USSR, Lana lived in Poland, East Germany and Cuba before coming to the United States in 1990. She now lives in a remote part of El Sobrante with her only remaining family member (her brother) and tons of wild animals, along with the tame ones she cares for – two dogs and two cats.

She is a biochemist by education, and has spent most of her professional career as a scientist in oncology and respiratory drug development until about a year ago. Currently unemployed, she says she is enjoying the opportunity to spend more time on searches and training.

For fun, Lana used to race motorcycles and volunteer as a riding instructor at local racetracks, and she enjoys reading and cooking, “but this SAR team thingy and dogs take a big chunk of my not-so-free time now,” she says.    

“I will try anything at least once. Granted, I am addicted to new challenges, and as soon as I become skilled at something that used to be impossible for me to conquer, I move on and look for a harder challenge. So, I finally found myself a hobby that seems to have endless challenges and adventures to offer.”     

Besides giving her challenges, SAR has also given Lana new, strong associations and close friendships.    

“I am glad to be surrounded by a bunch of people who seem to have the same never-give-up attitude,” she says. “Where else can one find a couple of hundred people driven by inexplicable desire to make their lives less comfy and relaxing through constant training, searches and other team-related activities preparing for the Big One, or anything else of that sort?”    

To that end, she believes all the hassle of training is well worth it, not to mention, expected. Prior to joining CoCoSAR, she attended trainings in other counties and was not sold. But her first experience with CoCoSAR – playing a dead subject at a full-team medical training – gave her a, one could say, corpse-eye view of how this team works. She was impressed.    

“I saw many people doing many different things, making mistakes, trying, learning, succeeding, failing, trying again, constantly moving around – a well-orchestrated chaos in motion – and I thought ‘yep, this is definitely a place for me’,” she says. “Being a member of our CoCo SAR team feels like being a part of a big dysfunctional yet very happy and loving family. We all have the same mission, and we all contribute to it according to our desire and abilities. This implicit feeling of trust I have about my teammates during searches is a very powerful motivator.”

And Lana is especially appreciative of her Canine Resource “family.”    

“Every time I log in my canine training hours, I am thinking how many more hours my teammates spent planning, training, and troubleshooting me and my dog,” she says. “For every one hour of my time, it's at least five more hours of my team members’. Their dedication, constant support, encouragement and patience is absolutely incredible.”

 

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?