2014 Tracking Academy Update (Or, How to Tell If a Subject Is Near)

tracking

By John Banuelos

The 2014 Tracking Academy has added 11 new members to the ranks of Contra Costa Search and Rescue searchers who are considered track aware/trackers. This brings the total number of current SAR members who have passed the Tracking Academy since 2006 to 58 (15 from 2006 to 2009; 44 from 2011 to 2014). Seventeen are on the MRG and 20 are presently on the Hasty squad.  

Please congratulate the newest members when you see them:

1.    Boyce, Michael
2.    Field, Cynthia
3.    Garcia, Linda
4.    Levenson, Kathryn
5.    Rodrigues, Itales
6.    Rutherford, Pamela
7.    Sutter, John
8.    Tseung, Kerrie
9.    Walton, Claire
10. Wilson, Steven
11. Witul, Janice

Tracking Academy Class of 2014 – A Success Story

You never know when the skill of tracking can be of value. Janice Witul arrived late for a July 16 tracking training held at Shell Ridge. While the end of Marshall Drive is an oft-used tracking locale, the actual training site had not been announced. Our location was hidden away by the ridge itself, a good distance from the entrance, and conducted at a location we had never used before.

Janice, however, was resourceful and apparently well trained. She knew my shoe print by sight. She proceeded to cut for sign on the possible trail paths and found my tracks. She followed my prints on terrain that did not take sign well, plus they had been trampled by a host of runners, hikers and dogs.

She found us. Her first words were, “ I tracked John’s shoe print.” Points go to Janice for her excellent memory and the find. It seems Corporal Leslie Borquez’s demanding training program has shown a dividend.

Tracking means you can always be found. Ask Janice.

Semper Terra-
Inveni, Persequere, Exsequere!

Always the earth 
Find! Pursue! Follow to the end!

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.

CoCoSAR Picture Of The Day

photo

CoCoSAR team member Brad Schimek holds out a radio direction finder as fellow team members (John Sutter, Cameron Soo, Don Kavanaugh, Paul Healy and Kerrie Tseung) take a compass bearing on its position. The device is used as part of the team's ELT (electronic location transmitter) training. The ELT is designed to find downed aircraft and is one of the skills CoCoSAR's mountain rescue group must demonstrate as part of their annual MRA (Mountain Rescue Association) Wilderness Search Tactics recertification. (Photo Credit: Natalie Zensius)

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.29.47 PM

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….”

My BWST : The View from the Back

By Wilma Murray

“The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where …”

It’s an old song, and familiarity with its lyrics no doubt dates me (and you). But it’s the song that comes to mind following what was a long, winding weekend for me as I tried to pocket another requirement on the way to Type-1dom: Basic Wilderness Search Tactics, or, BWST for short.

            There’s something a little crazy about this journey for me. (Okay, a LOT crazy.) Despite being a longtime soccer player (30+ years) who loves to play sports, I am no outdoors aficionado. In fact, I’m the queen of comfort, always eschewing dirt and inconvenience if it isn’t attached to a competitive game. I’m most happy in a cozy chair with a good book.

            And, frankly, I’m pretty creaky, with joints that could use a good dose of WD-40 every day (and ½ of one that’s made of spare parts). But in the almost-three years I’ve been on the CoCoSAR team, I’ve found myself drawn to doing things I never thought I could do – or wanted to do. Hiking, for starters.

            The basic Type 3 hike was a slog for me; dragged down with my son’s metal weights in the bottom of a school backpack, I was anything but searcher-ready. But then I began to get the hang of it and by last year, I actually enjoyed proctoring Type 2 hikes.

            Fast forward to this year: Here I was, heading out for my novice backpacking weekend with a group of die-hard outdoors persons (okay, except for Kristl), a borrowed backpack et al (thanks, Lauren) on my back. I had set up the tent once in my family room. Otherwise, this was all new. And, frankly, scary as all you-know-what.

            Right off the bat, I needed special treatment. Can’t do winding roads, so I had to drive. But all were willing to accommodate, and this continued, every step of the way.

            From that point on, my weekend was a team effort … from the beginning, when John Hubinger helped me fit my backpack properly; to the middle, when Chris Coelho and Robert Medearis helped me drive the stakes into the ground (and advised me on the finer tent details), and Banuelos walked me back to camp when others wanted to go the extra mile to watch another team; to the end, when my proctor Chris continued with welfare checks and offered to carry some of my stuff – fellow candidates and proctors were with me all the way. Encouragement and support were as high on the ingredients list as instruction.

            And despite my – often comedic – lack of experience, nobody balked. Nobody tried to discourage me, except me, and I was truly excellent at that, if nothing else. My weekend mantra, peppered with innumerable four-letter words (mostly inside my head, but a few eked out), was “I am SO NOT Type 1. This is SO NOT for me.”

            And yet …

            There is something incredibly compelling about being in the midst of people willing to go that extra mile – and another extra mile, and still another extra mile – to be prepared to help someone in need.

            Frankly, we have a whole team of folk like that, with people putting their energy full-force into all aspects of running the program. But the Type 1ers have a different kind of energy – not better, just different. They can admittedly be uber gung-ho, and for the neophyte, that can be intimidating. But they are also there, present, and ready to be of service, as was evidenced this weekend.

            I will never, ever be able to say, as others did at the debriefing: “Wow, this was FUN!” Nope. This is not my idea of fun. And at that point, I was so tired and sore and discouraged by my lack of ability to keep up that I was struggling just to keep my emotions in check.

            But I did it; I made it, thanks to all the hands and hearts that helped carry me along. I may not be able or willing to go on to the next step (Advanced Wilderness Search Tactics – a two-nighter event), or, if I do, I may not ever be on the Type-1 callout list. But to know that I was part of this intense process with such a strong and caring group of people made it all worth it.

            The rest of that song stanza – slightly paraphrased – sums up this remarkable team effort:

            “But we’re strong; strong enough to carry her; she ain't heavy, she's our sister.” 

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CoCoSAR Type 1 Candidates Steve Webber, Natalie Zensius, Wilma Murray (front row), Pat Dodson, Kristl Buluran, Phil Novak, Laura Carmody, Mikel Kinser, Don Kavanaugh, Micheal Riggs and John Hubinger relax after a challenging weekend. Team proctors: Chris Coelho, Tom McGee, Robert Medearis, Tim Murphy, John Banuelos, Reza Farsati and John Venturino.

(Photo: Natalie Zensius)

AmGen Medical Detail Recap

It's not every day that CoCoSAR gets front-row seats to a major sporting event. The near-final, seventh stage of the Amgen Tour of California afforded our team the ability to see the “Greatest Cycling Race in America” while practicing patching up some road rash.

With 5,000-plus cyclists (including the crowd), thousands more onlookers, and some steep drop-offs that would make your Camelback pucker, team members provided on-scene medical support by staffing three aid stations and several roving patrols. 

The day was beautiful and the teamwork was even better as the team adapted, improvised and overcame a variety of obstacles from last-minute operational changes to difficult communications. Of course, CoCoSAR pulled it off without a hitch with both style and flare (note the pictures).

Thanks to all those that participated, especially Robert Harrison, our new medical sergeant, for whom the SAR-gods chose this as his first event.
 

CoCoSAR 2013 Type 1 Academy Begins

This week, 11 new candidates and four candidates returning from previous years, began the CoCoSAR Type 1 Academy. Joe Keyser, Academy Training Sergeant, gives an overview of what the students are learning.

What does it mean to be a Type 1 searcher for CoCoSAR?
Being a Type 1 searcher means you respond to callouts in the most difficult and remote terrain in California. Type 1s can be requested to deploy almost anywhere in the state unsupported for up to 72 hours.

What types of terrain do CoCoSAR Type 1 searchers typically operate in?
The state of California defines Type 1 terrain as steep, high altitude, snow-covered or rough. Usually we operate in very remote areas. In the past, we’ve deployed to wilderness areas such as Yosemite, Ventana, Yolla Bolly, King's Canyon, Sequoia and Ansel Adams, as well as remote areas in many of the state's national forests.

How many Type 1 searches does CoCoSAR typically participate in every year?
Typically we average about two Type 1 searches a year. Last year, however, due to a variety of factors, including an early fall snowstorm, we responded to five Type 1 callouts.

How long does it typically take to complete the CoCoSAR required Type 1 training?
While it’s possible to complete all Type 1 trainings in one year, most people complete it in two or more years. Due to the volume of trainings and inevitable schedule conflicts, it’s very challenging to get everything done in one year.

Besides the academy, what other training do candidates have to complete before they can achieve Type 1 status for CoCoSAR?
In addition to the academy, candidates must complete the Diablo endurance hike (DEH); the advanced land navigation classroom sessions and field exercise; basic wilderness search tactics (an overnight backpacking trip); and advanced wilderness search tactics (a two-night long-distance backpacking trip). They also need to complete the course in wilderness first aid (WEMR). Those are required for Type-1 status. Type 1 searchers may also choose to continue their training to become certified in high-altitude terrain, snow terrain, or technical snow and ice terrain.

What types of skills will the candidates be learning in the Academy?
Candidates will learn about wilderness communication, gear, risk assessment, body management, available advanced trainings and more. New this year will be weapons-awareness training.

How many Type 1 team members does CoCoSAR have currently?
The team currently has about 30 active Type 1 members.

Who should consider becoming a Type 1 team member for CoCoSAR?
Any current Type 2 team member who wants to improve his/her searcher skills, challenge himself/herself physically and mentally, train and search in some of the most remote and beautiful places in the state and assume more of a leadership role on the team should consider Type 1 training.

 

Training Recap: CoCoSAR Rope Rescue

photo (10)CoCoSAR team members gathered at Shell Ridge May 18 for the first of the four-part summer rope-rescue training program jointly hosted by the USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) and MRG (Mountain Rescue Group) resources.

Rope-rescue skills are an important component of Mountain Rescue and USAR training but are also extremely useful for the whole team's knowledge base. The rope rescue trainings have been designed for multiple levels and are open to all team members – from those new to rope rescue to seasoned veterans.

The May training split the group into three parts, each designed to challenge and expand team members' skills: advanced for those with technical rope know-how; intermediate for those who have had some rope rescue experience and want to take their skills to the next level; and basic for novices.

Announcement: Upcoming Bike Resource Academy

The CoCoSAR Bike Resource team provides a special and unique role in searches, trainings and medical support for community events.  Being a member of this group is a great way for team members to deepen their CoCoSar relationship and skillset. Once a year, there is a Bike Resource Academy for prospective members. Bike Resource Sergeant Reza Farasati explains:
 

How does the bike resource work?

The Bike Resource serves two primary roles: First, it’s a specialty team sometimes used in searches where bike speed and/or the ability to cover certain terrain is needed. But most recently the primary use of the Bike Resource has been to be present at community events – most typically races of all types – so that participants can be quickly reached in the event of medical emergencies.

 

Who should join?

All members Type 2 and above who have a road or mountain bike are encouraged to join.

 

In what type of terrain do you search?

Both urban and rural. For rural searches, a mountain bike is required.

 

How often does the resource train?

Bike Resource members practice riding to stay fit as often as possible, with the group striving for biweekly or monthly rides. All members participate in a minimum number of trainings per year.

 

Is there a minimum fitness requirement?

Not specifically, but members need to be able to ride for the duration of any given search or medical assignment.

 

Why is having a Bike Resource important?

Like all CoCoSar resources, the Bike Resource adds an additional layer of competency to the team. Bikes are used during searches to reach distant areas faster than can be reached on foot, particularly in areas where vehicles cannot go, such as the Iron Horse Trail. They're used in hasty searches and as a support unit to the Command Post (CP) and others. The Bike Resource also provides medical support at many community events such as the Mount Diablo Challenge and other bike and road races.
 

  • Date:   Saturday, June 29, 2013

  • Time:   9:00 am – 1:00 pm

  • Place:  Sports Basement, Walnut Creek

  • What will be covered:

    • Safety check of bikes and equipment

    • Short ride (few miles) toward Shell Ridge

    • Basic riding skill set check

    • Practice hasty search with bike/look for clues

    • Return to Sport Basement for refreshments

    • Basic bike repairs by Sport Basement experts

  • Upon completion of the Academy – you will be qualified to become a member of the Bike Resource

  • Advanced Training – An advanced training will be held shortly after the Academy (details to be advised)

  • To register for the Academy –  use the CoCoSAR website

  • Interested, but can't attend the Academy? – Let me know and we'll try to make other arrangements for you

  • Interested, but don't have a bike right now?  We can arrange a temporary loaner for you!
     

Questions? Contact Reza Farasati.