Mission Tempo

Even though our calls for service have been light this past month, the membership continues to train for and execute the mission of the SAR team. For example, this past month, after a long break, we now have two newly certified urban trailing K9’s. Congratulations to Carol O’Neil and Jennifer Wright for their accomplishment with their K9 partners. This is going to pay off handsomely for the team, since we will now be able to deploy trailing dogs much earlier on search missions. 

I also want to thank Diane Blue and Wilma Murray for taking the lead organizing our latest member recruitment drive. They have worked tirelessly through the extended hiring process to bring a new group of volunteers onto the team. This is a tough job and requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. They are the perfect ambassadors for our team and the new recruits. 

There are many other things actively going on across the team. I wish I could mention them all. Even though we recently have not had many callouts for traditional search and rescue missions, we’ve been doing a lot of great things to support the department and community. I’ve often said the many things we do to be mission-ready are not easy, . . . but all of you make it look easy.

When our callout tempo slows, one of the questions I constantly hear is, “It has been really quiet lately, is this normal?” I’ve been around SAR long enough to know this is normal. We have had mission droughts in the past. It happens. The reality is it has been pretty quiet for most teams throughout the State. Just for our team, we went through the whole month of June without a genuine SAR callout. That is extraordinary, but not unheard of. In contrast, we started out the year with a very active operational tempo. It tapered off. It will pick up again.

Another comment I hear when SAR calls dry up is the myth that there's a missing person "season.” The idea that our SAR missions are seasonal in nature doesn’t hold true.  If we were a mountain-based SAR team or located in a tourist destination, we might see a downturn in calls as visitors to our county decreased in the off-season, but Contra Costa is not in these categories. Furthermore, the majority of our in-county calls fall into two categories: criminal evidence searches, and missing persons who are either at-risk dementia patients, or individuals with developmental disabilities. Neither of these categories are affected by the seasons or weather patterns. 

The team's collective dedication to the mission is outstanding. The training and participation of every team member clearly demonstrates that incredible commitment. The staff at OES laughs when I say I want to exercise the “machine” with callouts. The SAR team is a machine, and keeping it oiled through callouts is an important way of ensuring the membership remains active and engaged. The missions will come back, and when they do, we’ll hear, “Wow, it sure is busy!” Then we’ll wish for it to be quiet again. It’s all part of the SAR cycle.

The last old wives' tale I often hear is, "Don’t ever say it’s been quiet.” If that's a true tale, I’m here to say, it’s been way too quiet!

Bring it on. The team is ready.

Getting Noticed

I would like to thank everyone for another month of incredible work. While the County Fair had most of our focus, the SAR machine kept rolling. The metal detectors were out a couple of times, the MRG was deployed to Yosemite, we supported funeral service for a dignitary, supported a very large law enforcement competition for the Sheriff’s Office, The Type I Academy started, the EMR class finished, and we had a very successful full-team medical training in Pinole. 

The Sheriff’s Office full-time staff continues to be in awe of this team’s dedication and service. The execution of the County Fair and its demobilization could not have happened without great SAR support from the team. The group continues to step up and provide a level of service not matched by any other group in the Sheriff’s Office—or any other SAR team for that matter. That gets the team noticed.

At the May full-team medical training, the Assistant Sheriff came out to visit and observe. He spent quite a bit of time interacting with the team and taking photos of the event. He was very impressed with what he saw executed—so much that he forwarded a very complimentary memo to the Sheriff outlining the event and his observations. He stated in his memo “I was very impressed by the dedication and professionalism exhibited by all present.”

Dedication and professionalism seems to be the norm by which this team operates. The level of respect from the public and the full-time staff continues to grow each month. This is not something built overnight. The SAR members dedication to the mission and continued enthusiasm to help out is what makes this team so special. 

All of what you do is appreciated.

Thank you!

A Growing Reputation

Over the past six weeks, our team has participated in quite a few operations. We’ve had hasty searches, full team searches, Type I searches and special details. To a person, your individual contributions have not gone unnoticed. 

The professionalism and hard work is creating a relationship throughout our department that continues to grow. The visibility we get in our operations is generating more and more requests for service. 

We recently had a search in Alamo for a despondent teenage girl.  While in reality this was a fairly routine search event, we had support that was not routine. In our CP, we had a detective assigned to assist with the missing person investigation.  Why? This detective witnessed the team’s activities in Crockett a few months ago, and was extremely impressed. When we deployed, investigations immediately added a Detective to our CP. This created a coordinated, seamless SAR and Sheriff’s Office investigation. 

A few weeks back, SAR Reserves were specifically asked to assist the SWAT Team and narcotics investigators hike in and eradicate a clandestine pot grow. Why SAR? Our reputation and known fitness standards gave the full-time staff comfort in knowing our people could handle themselves in a very physically rigorous event. 

Another example of the team’s reputation was in the recent Type I deployment to Monterey County. This search for the missing fisherman was in some incredibly difficult terrain that only a few teams in Northern California could handle. We were one of only a couple of teams that were personally requested to assist Monterey County. This was solely based on the reputation of a very respected organization.

The underlying point is that we provide a unique service. Not only that, but we do it better than any other team can. This is a direct result of everyone’s dedication to the overall mission of the SAR program. It’s easy to want to be the best. It’s extremely difficult to actually be the best. All the hours team members commit to the organization pays off in a host of benefits to the community. The value of SAR is well recognized and appreciated throughout the Sheriff's Office.

30 Years of Service

People join the SAR team for a variety of reasons. Some seek to give back to the community. Some hope to learn valuable new skills and gain job experience. Some just want to meet new people. For whatever reason our members join, it is their combined experience and commitment to the mission that makes the SAR program so successful.

The accomplishments and drive of the group as a whole is amazing. The average span of an individual SAR career is a little less then five years. There are many reasons why people leave the team. SAR is a difficult volunteer program that requires an extraordinary level of commitment from its members. It is part of the life cycle of the team that we have a very consistent rotation of members who come and go.
That being said, the majority of those who come through our ranks, whether they're here a year or twenty, bring strengths and abilities that continue to build and evolve a successful program. While I would love everyone to spend decades with the team it isn't always possible. And that's ok.
There are exceptions to the five-year rule. One veteran I would like to mention is longtime team member Paul Carlson. This year Paul reached the milestone of 30 years of service to the team. This is an amazing accomplishment. This is a career of service only matched by a few people in the team's history. Most full-time professional careers do not last as long.

Paul saw the team go from a small group of twenty in the early 1980's, to the the team of over two hundred it is today. Finally, life has caught up with Paul. After a long career with Chevron, he recently retired and took up fulltime residence at his vacation home up in Twain Harte in the Sierra foothills. For that reason, Paul decided to hang up his gaiters and trekking poles with Contra Costa Search and Rescue.

Paul was a very active member of the team during his tenure. My first memory of him was when I was a member of the Explorers. I did not know who he was, but at the time saw a very animated, committed team member. He was at all the searches, he helped at trainings, and was one of those early medical gurus who set the foundation for our focus on professional-level first-aid care. Paul also loved managing search operations, and was one of a few "go to" guys who could always be counted on to run a search.
Paul could never get enough of SAR. He held dual membership with Cal-ESAR, a State sponsored SAR team, and various levels of responsibility with CoCo SAR. At different times during his career, Paul was a squad leader, medical instructor, 4×4 member, wilderness resource member, reserve peace officer, team sergeant, and held several positions on the Command Staff. When the team evolved from a phone-tree callout system to a pager system, Paul wrote the original computer program used to page team members.
Paul took great pride in being prepared. He was one of those guys you could call anytime, and at a moment's notice, he would respond to an incident. He was so serious that I remember him showing me how he parked his truck backwards in his garage and left the doors open to shave off a few seconds of response time. Paul earned the occasional ribbing from fellow team members who suggested he also slept in his uniform.
Although Paul is leaving our team, he is going to continue his SAR service. He has applied to be a member of the Tuolomne County SAR team. I wish to personally thank Paul on behalf of the search and rescue team and the Office of the Sheriff for his lifetime of service to search and rescue.
Only a handful of people can make a 30-year career of SAR, but if every member had just a little of Paul's focus and commitment, no matter how long they served, it would have an incredible impact on the team's success.