My Type 3 and 2 Academy Experience

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By Randy Franks
 
Have you ever ridden Space Mountain … you know, the roller coaster at Disneyland? The one in total darkness where you can’t tell what’s next – maybe a sharp left turn or a precipitous drop? Then afterwards you’re a bit sore but unquestionably ready to jump back in line and do it all over again?
 
If you've never been on that ride, all I can say is: it’s exactly like CoCoSAR academy training.
 
The practical training – USAR at the old juvenile hall, land navigation at Briones, and the simulated search night – are so well-designed, the men and women leading them so capable, and the host of supporting proctors so knowledgeable and supportive, that it really is a perfect roller coaster.
 
There are moments that feel dangerous (a door-knock exercise that interrupts a fierce domestic argument), or risky (nighttime hasty search along narrow trails), but the setting is ultimately safe and stable.
 
And the pace is at times fast, providing the immersive feel of a real event (searching and clearing a cell block as a team, or pretty much any time on comms); and at times slow, with measured moments debriefing as a group, as a smaller team, or learning one-on-one (tying knots or manually plotting and reading UTMs).
 
I’m surprised to find myself making this analogy, because I came to Search and Rescue with a couple of decades of experience in backpacking, hiking cross-country and standing atop high Sierra peaks, with well-maintained first-aid credentials, too.
 
But when applied to SAR, all that has turned out to be like learning about roller coasters by watching YouTube.
 
(Academy Students relax with team proctors after successfully completing CoCoSAR's UNO [unexpected night out] training event. Photo credit: Ed Molascon.)

Team Commendations, July 2013

Diane Blue / Wilma Murray
Both Diane and Wilma put in a tremendous volume of work with the New Member Orientation, Application, and Oral Board process for the Type 3 Academy. Once again this duo represented the SAR Team and Sheriff Dept. in a professional and excellent manner with all the new applicants. We now have 35 excellent Type 3 students for our Sept. Academy which will greatly benefit the SAR Team.

Cindee Valentin / Carol O’Neil / Jennifer Wright
These three team members are the leadership our of Canine Resource. During July they each logged a great deal of hours into training new canines as well as new student canine handlers. This is in addition to conducting the twice a week regular trainings the resource has. In end the goal of additional canines will greatly enhance our search capabilities and our team.

 

Training Recap: AWST 2013

1146801_10201536653200777_95795421_oAugust began with the CoCoSAR Type 1 MRG Advanced Wilderness Search Tactics (AWST) training. Conducted once a year, this is one of the major training markers to qualify for MRG/Type 1, covering a period of three days and two nights in the mountains at altitudes above 7,000 feet.

This year, 12 candidates and six proctors traveled to Mammoth to train in the Thousand Island Lake area in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Kristl Buluran was one of the candidates and this is her story.

I’m probably the most inexperienced candidate in this pool. I joined SAR last year with no backpacking or camping experience, so what was my rationale to continue through the Type 1 academy? I wanted to help people. But, truthfully, I also wanted to be badass.

What I lacked in skill and experience, I thought I could make up for in determination and heart, and I could learn the skills and gain the experience along the way.

Or, maybe not.

Three sheriff’s vehicles transported 18 people for the six-hour drive. Halfway through Yosemite, I started feeling tingling in my fingers and toes, lightheadedness, mild motion sickness, and just an overall feeling of unease. I hoped it would pass–I was determined and looking forward to beginning the hike.

At Mammoth, lead proctor Joe Keyser split us up into two teams to hike 9 miles to camp at Thousand Island Lake.

This turned out to be by far the most challenging and brutal hike I’ve ever done. I battled dizziness and lightheadedness the entire hike.  I am a slow hiker even at best (Mikel Kinser anointed me “Stubby” for good reason). I also got a much-needed, but harsh lesson in the level of teamwork required for Type 1 when it became clear the team would not make it to camp before sunset at the pace I was setting; I would have to share some of my load with my teammates.

Oh, what a humbling experience. Yet, everyone was supportive and understanding, and, after eventually sucking up my pride, I was grateful my teammates absorbed some of my pack weight. We made it to camp with barely enough light to set up.

That evening, most felt okay, aside from the headache and slight nausea that is common while adjusting to high altitude. Some (including me) were a bit worse for wear… more nausea, more dizziness, more blech. I ate and drank what I could, then retired to my tent.

Sleep was not to be because I couldn’t breathe. And breathing was not to be because of the altitude. Plus, despite all my layers,  I was freezing.

In the morning, Todd Rogers took over as lead proctor for a training-filled day, beginning with a lesson in using what was in our packs to create litters to carry a downed subject.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.36.33 PMProctors hammered us with questions: What if this person had a head injury? How would you hold C-spine? What about a broken leg — show me what you would use to splint it. What if he had both? Is your litter sturdy enough to support his entire body? What if you only had three people?

So many questions! But all of them were necessary to demonstrate possible dilemmas and solutions in a Type 1 rescue, and to illustrate the level of teamwork required to bring someone safely down a mountain.

After a few hours, we were split into two teams with Natalie Zensius and Laura Carmody as leads. The choice: a very challenging search area or a very, VERY challenging search area. Natalie’s team chose the latter, Laura’s the former. Guess which team I was on?

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.40.10 PMWe were instructed to grid the area along the way to our search area. This exercise drove home the difficulties of searching an area of dense wilderness and uncharted terrain. It became clear that two things are musts for a Type 1: qualified and fit team members, and lots and lots of callouts.

In order to be a Type 1 searcher, one needs to be conditioned as well as fit. There is a difference and I, who have always considered myself fit, realized I was not conditioned.

As we climbed to over 10,000 feet, I immediately felt the effects of altitude and fell out. Everything began to spin. I fought hard against it as my team carried me to a rock under shade. Laura and Pat Dodson placed wet cloths over me while Micheal Riggs and Steve Webber took off my pack and fanned me down. In the meantime, John Banuelos and Mary Carreno decided I was done and Mary would walk me back to camp.

This time I did not protest. I wanted down … and out.

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I did not complete this part of the training, but I later learned Banuelos became the subject who “fell while taking a bio break.” My team called the other team to assist in building a litter to carry him to a landing zone. (The other team also had to run uphill to make it to a “helicopter pickup” within 20 minutes.  Hate to say it, but I was happy to not have been on that team.)

About five hours later, both teams returned, exhausted. I felt so much better (apparently the climb to over 10,000 feet is exactly what I needed to acclimate). I was glad to see everyone and anxious to hear their stories.

After dinner, Todd asked each team member three questions: What did you like about the training; what didn’t you like; and what have you learned? The responses helped give me perspective on training and preparation to be an effective and successful Type 1 member.

The second night was much more comfortable than the first thanks to acclimating. Next morning, coming “down” the mountain, we still did a lot of climbing. Although concerned because of my earlier difficulties, I felt much better and almost fully acclimated to the thin mountain air.

Once again we split into two groups: the fast group (Team 1), proctored by Banuelos and Andy Csepely, and the not-so-fast group (Team 2), proctored by Todd and led by Steve. Guess which group I was in?

Team 1 led the charge with about a 30-minute head start. I was asked to set the pace for Team 2. I was hesitant, but greatly encouraged by everyone on my team, especially Natalie, who said, “Don’t worry … I’m on her!”

And that she was. Thanks to tips Laura and Natalie gave me on how to maneuver over rough terrain, loose rock and shale, and how to use trekking poles, etc., my pace was soon both brisk and comfortable. In fact, I found myself hiking faster than I ever had before. Something about acclimating made me feel like Superwoman; blood flowing, oxygen filling my lungs, head clear … I had energy I hadn’t had in days … or maybe ever.

1091053_10201536658520910_281168325_oThroughout the hike we checked in with Team 1 and soon learned they weren’t far ahead. Team 1 had left sticks and branches spelling out “Team 1” (as if to mark their dominance), which only served to tickle my competitive streak.

“You know, we could actually catch up to them, Kristl,” my team said. “It would be awesome to see Banuelos’ face when he sees us passing them, Kristl.”

That did it; we were off.  And when we caught up to Team 1 and Banuelos saw us coming, he yelled, “No way!” Team 1 parted a course for us to pass, exchanging high-fives and “good jobs!”

In the end, I found great satisfaction in knowing I made it through the weekend, as difficult and challenging as it was. Even though I failed AWST, I learned what it takes to be a Type 1 – the level of conditioning necessary to be an effective team member, and the seriousness of the training to match the seriousness of the search and rescue. I learned of my own limitations, and how being unprepared adversely affects a search when lack of skills creates a liability.

Moreover, I believe there is no such thing as failure; only opportunities, lessons learned, and good stories. I have much more to learn, but this weekend solidified my respect for the Type 1 team and increased my gratitude for teammates who were there for me.

Now the best part of this story is the ending, when I say, “So, while we were at the shuttle stop waiting for Team 1….”

A CoCoSAR Training We Couldn’t Pass Up

On the weekend of October 26th Urban Shield 2013 will be taking place across the Bay Area. Urban Shield is a comprehensive full-scale, regional preparedness exercise. It encompasses real world scenarios to assess the Bay Area Region‘s response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organization, equipment and training. Urban Shield tests regional integrated systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery in our high-threat, high-density urban area.

This year Contra Costa is the lead participant under the Emergency Management Area Command in Urban Shield.  As such, we will be the lead Emergency Operations Center and Coroner responding to a mass fatality incident—a simulated train collision in Martinez. This will be a multi-County Emergency Operations Center functional exercise in the morning with a Portable Field Morgue and Mock Family Assistance Center Demonstration in the afternoon. 

The afternoon Demonstration will simulate a full activation of a Disaster Mortuary Operations response Team (DMORT), including

  • temporary field morgue facilities
  • victim identification & processing
  • forensic dental pathology
  • forensic anthropology methods
  • DNA processing
  • radiology
  • disposition of remains

We expect up to 200 representatives from across the Bay Area and California Coroner’s Offices, fire, law and public health to attend the Portable Morgue & Family Assistance Center Demonstration.

While this is outside of the normal scope of the SAR mission, if we were to experience a large scale incident of this nature, there is a good chance the SAR Team would be involved in one way or another.

Due to the unique opportunity to work directly with our regional, state and out-of-state partners, CoCoSAR will be integrating our monthly full team training resources into this regional exercise. Supporting this exercise will give us the opportunity to get hands on experience setting up large-scale, federal disaster response assets, observe–and possibly participate in–regional mutual aid EOC coordination, familiarize ourselves with portable field morgue resources, as well as develop relationships with our regional and out-of-state partners.

CoCoSAR Team members can sign up at http://contracostasar.org/Detail/Search/urban.

Mission Summary: June 2013

  • 6/9/2013 – Bike to Bridges. There were four CoCoSAR bikes involved. There was some confusion about how much of the ride was to be covered (of the 25 miles) and one member of the group had difficulty about halfway through the ride. It was suggested that there should be a policy to state that riders only have a partial area to cover.
     
  • 6/24/13 – A hiker (35 years old) called his family as it was getting dark and said he was lost on Mt. Tamalpais. Shortly after that, his phone battery died. Marin searched in the night and called for mutual aid first thing in the morning. CoCoSAR was en route when the hiker self-rescued. Read team member John Hubinger's write-up of this callout.
     
  • 6/28/13 – Sheriff’s Office SERT competition. Twenty SAR members attended the SERT competition and were tasked with crowd control rather than medical. There was no ambulance standing by, however, and there were two injuries and five heat-related issues. 

Additional Type 2 Hikes Available

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The following Type 2 qualifying hike opportunities have been added to the CoCoSAR team calendar. Please sign up on the website when the event is posted. Team members are encouraged to participate as proctors and for conditioning and encouragement. Be a good teammate!

The requirement is to complete the specified 5-mile course in no more than 2.5 hours and carrying a 20-pound pack. Course map and GPS tracks are on the CoCoSAR website in the documents section. Maps will not be provided at the site.

Team uniforms are not required. Do not bring non-SAR canines; if your canine is not on the SAR Canine Resource, do not bring him/her.

The Type 2 hike location is at the Shell Ridge (WCOS) trailhead at Marshall Drive by Indian Valley Elementary School in Walnut Creek. Google Map 500 Marshal Drive for directions.

  • Monday, Aug. 26 – 1800 hours sign-in and weigh-in, 1815 hours timed start
  • Sunday, Sept. 15 – 0800 hours sign-in and weigh-in, 0815 hours timed start
  • Tuesday, Oct. 7 - 1800 hours. This is the first class of the Type 2 Academy. Uniforms (full team/proctor) are required. All team members are encouraged to participate in order to support the new Type 2 Academy team members.

There will be one more Type 2 hike qualifying opportunity in calendar year 2013.

Initial CoCoSAR Full Team Survey Results

Over 100 team members took the survey and gave us valuable insight into what we as a team are doing right and where the team might have some opportunities to improve. Overall, 92 percent of team members are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our team.

Below are a few more highlights.

  • 97 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our overall team performance.
  • 91 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our search preparedness.
  • 96 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our monthly full-team trainings.
  • 74 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct an after-action review.
  • 95 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct in-county searches.
  • 91 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct out-of-county searches.
  • 92 percent agree or strongly agree the expectations of a CoCoSAR team member have been clearly explained.
  • 63 percent agree or strongly agree they receive the proper supervision and feedback on their SAR performance.
  • 94 percent agree or strongly agree they have received the proper training to meet the expectations of our SAR duties.
  • 78 percent agree or strongly agree there is opportunity on the SAR team for advancement.

Over the next several weeks, the Command Staff will conduct a full analysis of the survey results. We'll share the information with the full team in September.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. Your feedback is extremely valuable and a critical component to the success of the team.

 

Mutual-Aid Callout, Marin County

By John Hubinger

On June 25, CoCoSAR received an early-morning mutual-aid call to a search in Marin County at the Bon Tempe Lake on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais. We would be looking for a 38-year-old male who had been hiking in the early evening when he realized, as it was getting dark, that he was lost and contacted his family just before his phone batteries died.

With the fog and rain, this was June’s coldest day so far.

Teams from Marin SAR had been called out at midnight and approximately 20 team members began searching around 1 a.m. The Mutual-aid callout happened circa 4 a.m.

Self-transporting, I arrived at the CP just after 8 and shortly thereafter we heard that the subject had been located in good condition.  At about 8:25, the subject arrived at CP mildly hypothermic, wet, tired, confused and wrapped in a blanket. The incident commander asked me to get the subject a cup of coffee, so when I brought it to him, I was able to listen to his debrief. 

Here is what he said:

After sending a picture text to his family, the subject became aware it was getting dark and he was still about three hours out. Trying to return to his car, he took a wrong turn and instead, headed in the opposite direction. At about 9:30 he called his family saying he was lost and soon after that his iPhone batteries died (so now he had no communication, map or light). He walked another hour until the trail ended, then made the decision to stay put for the night, huddling by a tree and using his hoody for cover and shelter.

At first light, he started to retrace his path and eventually was able to find the right trail. Several teams came very close to him, both at night and that morning, but none saw him.

After his debrief by the IC commander, he was given a full medical by a team of paramedics and the SAR personnel were debriefed, thanked and dismissed.  

Lessons learned:

·       Many moderately experienced hikers go out for “day hikes” without proper clothing, food, water and navigational information.

·       It is not uncommon for hikers to rely too heavily on smart phones (or GPS), only to find they don’t get reception, they run out of batteries or that the phones are of limited value – in this case all of the above!

·       Remembering that a landmark such as a lake was on the “right side” going out and therefore now should be on the left side coming back, doesn’t help if the lake in question is a different lake and you have no map or position on a GPS device.

That last point became clear to me after the assignment was over because I chose to stay to explore and hike the unfamiliar area. I retraced the path of the subject (the path he outlined was fairly clear). About three hours into my hike/run it became quite clear where he might have been when he made that “I think I’m lost” phone call. The whole retrace took me about 6.5 hours (with GPS, water, charged phone, map and some gear – no pack, but more than I usually take trail running on my own). It was interesting to imagine myself in the boots of the lost hiker at the point where he spent a cold uncomfortable evening.