MRG Quarterly Meeting

DSCF0243The Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) quarterly meetings generally go off without a hitch, but the most recently planned meeting was put off twice. The first delay was for a call out to El Dorado County; the second time it was postponed because of an Antioch search. Looks like the third time’s the charm as the meeting was finally held July 29.

The session began with mission recaps and discussion about the upcoming MRG Type 1 training Aug. 1 through 3.

The meeting also featured team tech specialist David Cossu, who described and demonstrated the mobile command field electronics. We tested the plotter, satellite phone, wireless networks for remote field operations and lots of other resources.

One new piece of equipment stole the show: the BGAN portable broadband Internet and phone. This game-changing piece of equipment allows for Internet access and phone calls in places where there is no cell service.

It was a hands-on couple of hours. After several months of planning and pulling equipment together, our mobile field electronics are finally ready to be field-tested.

The MRG meetings are open to all CoCoSAR team members, not just Type 1. Contact Chris Coelho for information about MRG.

SAR Word of the Day

noun /ˌsfigmōməˈnämitər/ 
sphygmomanometers, plural

An instrument for measuring blood pressure, typically consisting of an inflatable rubber cuff that is applied to the arm and connected to a column of mercury next to a graduated scale, enabling the determination of systolic and diastolic blood pressure by increasing and gradually releasing the pressure in the cuff.


Upcoming Ham License Opportunities

The Communications Support Group has sought out additional one-day “Ham cram” classes for anyone interested in becoming a licensed amateur radio operator, as well as for any current licensees looking to upgrade their privileges. CoCoSAR member Ron Huntington attended the recent training in Tracy and earned his technician license.

“I took David Corsey's Ham-cram session in Tracy,” Ron says. “There were all kinds of people taking the course, from kids to seniors. This particular class has a 90-plus-percent success rate. You basically cram for six 45-minute sessions, and then immediately take the exam while everything is fresh in your mind.

If you don't pass, they allow you to take the test multiple times until you pass. (One person passed on the third try, but most pass the first try.) I was surprised at how easy it was to get my license!”

Here is an updated list of upcoming sessions. (Click to be taken to the registration pages.)

Tracy May 25, 2013 0800-1600

Stockton July 6, 2013 0800-1600

Tracy July 27, 2013 0800-1600

Stockton August 17, 2013 0800-1600

Tracy September 28, 2013 0800-1600

Stockton October 19 2013 0800-1600

Tracy November 23 2013 0800-1600

Stockton December 21 2013 0800-1600

Also, the Concord Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) has a seven-week traditional technician class beginning in August.  For information, email

If you register for any of the above classes, let someone from the Communications Support Group know and he/she will try and put people together for carpooling, etc.

Jeffrey Deuel

Amateur/HAM radio liaison

CoCo SAR Comms Support Group

Hunter Deuel

CoCo SAR Comms Support Group

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?

Changing Channels on the new Motorola Mobile Radios

To find one of the “typical” channels we use in SAR (e.g. TAC 4, CALCORD, CLEMARS) follow these steps:

  1. Press the small rectangular button multiple times under the word “ZONE” to scroll to ZONE 10 (see the small letters above the channel identifier).
  2. Turn the larger channel knob on the right side of the display to change the channel (e.g. TAC 4).

Easy as that! The communications crew will be laminating a full ZONE LIST and placing it in all the SAR vehicles on the visor on the passenger side for reference for other channels if needed.

IMPORTANT - The orange button on the right, behind the channel knob is the “Officer Down” button.  Do NOT push this button unless it is a life or death emergency.



The Pro-Purchase Program

By Joe Keyser
It’s pretty obvious that search-and-rescue-type personalities don’t do what we do for the money. We’re pretty content to toil for a pat on the back—but the occasional perk doesn’t hurt. As members of Contra Costa Search and Rescue, we are eligible to participate in the Pro-Purchase programs from several manufacturers of the gear we know and love. These programs allow us to purchase gear we use for search and rescue at significant discounts off regular retail prices.

All team members in good standing are eligible to participate in these Pro-Purchase programs. Some of the manufacturers who generously allow us to buy gear at a discount are Mountain Hardwear, Black Diamond, Arcteryx, Big Agnes, Camelbak, Petzl, Katadyn, Osprey, and many others. However, there are a few rules we need to follow. The purchases from these programs are intended for SAR team members only. We are not allowed to purchase gear for family members, friends, or acquaintences. This is a strict rule! Manufacturers can and will kick us out of the program if the policy is abused. The one exception is Mountain Hardwear. Feel free to bring friends and family to the Mountain Hardwear employee store. Just show your SAR ID at the front desk to get in.

There is a current list of the various programs available to us on the team web site in the docs section. Look for the document entitled Pro Deal Information Sheet. Gear manufacturers and retail outlets are both listed. For manufacturer discounts, follow the directions on the sheet to sign up. For retailers, just bring along your SAR ID card. Enjoy the shopping and have fun playing with your new discounted gear.

New Radios, Same Procedures (Almost)

If you’ve been in some of the Sheriff’s vehicles lately, you may have noticed a new radio has been installed: the Motorola APX 7500 O5. The change is part of an upgrade to allow the use of additional frequencies and functions. Using this radio is essentially unchanged from any other vehicle radio: turn it on, select the channel, and press the PTT button on the microphone. But how you do this is slightly different.

The biggest visible change is the orange screen that displays the channel along with other information. The layout of the knobs and buttons can be seen on the radio’s Quick Reference Card, available in the Documents section of the SAR website. The three most important controls—power (on/off), volume, and channels—are shown in the photo above. Rotate the channel knob through the 16 Zone-1 channels until you find Tac 4 (see channel list sidebar). The radio also has many advanced capabilities beyond the basic send-and-receive functionality, including secured communications, telephone capabilities, and other features that won’t be used by SAR.

In addition to new radios being put in, the power on/off function in the vehicles is being changed. In the past, the power to the radio was sometimes wired through the ignition switch. In that situation the ignition needs to be on in order to operate the radio. The alternative was to have the radio wired directly to the battery … which then drained the battery if the vehicle was parked and the radio was not specifically turned off. Now all vehicles are standardized so the ignition must be on for the radio to work; the radio will automatically lose power when the key is turned off.

An additional change: All accessories will automatically be powered off by a ‘power tamer’ within 30 to 60 minutes after the ignition switch is turned off. This should help minimize the chance of having a dead battery due to accessories (such as a GPS charger) consuming battery power when the engine is of