Searcher Spotlight: Antoine Snijders

One of the quietest SAR members can often be found in back of OES busying himself in the storage containers. While Medical Corporal Antoine Snijders may keep a low profile, he takes his work seriously. “I try to keep our team mission-ready by keeping the medical packs in good shape,” he says.

Antoine joined the team in winter 2010. He says he finds the prospect of helping others in need “truly inspiring,” and SAR offers the rare opportunity to have a profound impact on other people’s lives.

He also joined, he says, because he has an adventurous side. Studious, too, apparently. The Netherlands native studied biomedical sciences at the VU University in Amsterdam, did further studies in cancer research at UCSF, then earned a doctoral degree in genetics and molecular biology from the University of Utrecht. After completing postdoctoral work at UCSF, he was hired on at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he now studies health risks of low doses of ionizing radiation.

Between his job, his family (he lives with his wife and young daughter and toddler son in Antioch), earning his American citizenship (this year) and his dedication to SAR, Antoine has little time for play. But if he finds a few moments, he will work in the yard, go for a run, or operate his amateur radio.

The 2011 Mendocino search left a hefty impression on Antoine. He says, quoting John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.” All the days of work by many SAR teams culminated in finding the subject and Antoine says, “It was a truly humbling experience. I was thankful for the positive outcome and proud to be part of this great organization.”

Antoine is enthusiastic in his appreciation for the members of CoCo SAR. “It’s an honor to serve with all of you, and I hope to do so for many years to come.”

His teammates hope he does, too.

Searcher Spotlight: Alan Hirata

Only an engineer would analyze the equipment for a better methodology of bleeding control in the midst of caring for a patient—but that’s what Alan Hirata confesses to. Fortunately, his analytical trains of thought have only come during EMR training and not in the field.

"Being an engineer, I always like a problem in search of a solution," he says.

In SAR, he is constantly finding just that. Alan joined the team shortly after his wife, Tamie, came on board in 2007.

He's quiet—perhaps because he is busy analyzing—but Alan also has a wry sense of humor that he willingly aims at himself. When asked about leisure activities, for instance, he countered that SAR counts as one, doesn't it?

"Remember, I’m an engineer, and what we classify as fun is vastly different than that which is considered to be so by the general public," he says.

Alan is a Palo Alto native who, like Tamie, attended UC Berkeley (which is where they met) and so, too, lives now in Martinez with the rest of the Hirata SAR clan.

One form of engineering wasn't enough for him, so he double majored (or is it triple?) in electrical and nuclear engineering, and computer science. His career has led him through stints at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, at Flex Products, Inc., and at Siemens, working on everything from designing light rail vehicles to overhauling, repairing, and testing nuclear reactors. Currently he is a transit bus electrical design engineer at Gillig.

Ever examining the world around him, Alan looks at SAR as an interesting puzzle. "Given the choice of traveling on a nicely maintained trail or a steep hillside full of chest-high botanical growth, SAR always chooses the chest-high botanical growth," he says, tongue in cheek. "This is a metaphor for life, but I don’t remember what it means."

On the more serious side, though, he sees SAR as a well-engineered product. He sums it up thusly: "Take people from diverse backgrounds and interests, train them, put them together as a team, pay them nothing but compliments, and watch them kick buttocks and get the job done!"

Searcher Spotlight: Tamie Hirata

The dynamic duo of Ed Molascon and Bryan Walley, staffing a recruitment table in front of REI, brought SAR to the attention of Tamie Hirata some years ago. It was the first she had heard of the organization, and she was intrigued. Mostly, she thought she might get involved with the canine unit, since she had a dog adept at tracking.

Unfortunately, the pup was also adept at finding (and sharing) poison oak, something to which Tamie is extremely allergic. Thus, the dog training came off the table, but the rest of SAR did not. Tamie signed up in 2007.

She says SAR has given her the opportunity to gain many skills and grow her knowledge base, but she is still seeking her SAR niche: “I feel like there’s so much to learn.”

Tamie grew up in Walnut Creek, attended UC Berkeley, lived briefly in Vallejo and is now settled in Martinez. Though she has a yen for traveling and adventure, she hasn’t strayed far from her youthful home except on side trips around the country with family.

The exception was in March, when she took a trip to Cambodia with youngest son and fellow SAR member Alden, where they helped at a “Feed and Read” school. She loved the experience and hopes to do more. The need to explore is always with her, and she loves the outdoors.

Fortunately, her job with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District as an air-quality inspector allows her to enjoy the latter and SAR gives her opportunities for both.

Meanwhile, SAR provides Tamie with the venue for reaching out to others while also staying close to her family, both priorities for her. (Husband, Alan, and daughter, Tori, are also SAR members. Eldest son Alex is not—yet.)

Tamie covets a teaching career, because she so loves working with children and youth. SAR connects with that aspect of her life, too. In fact, her first search was for a young autistic man.

“We were out all night, and one of the CoCo SAR teams found him,” she says. “That was an incredible feeling, and cemented my resolve to continue with SAR.”

Searcher Spotlight: John Giaconia

The biggest reward that comes from being a SAR member is knowing you helped find someone before the search became a recovery, John Giaconia says.

He joined the team three years ago (with his wife, Karen Synowiec) as a way of giving back to the community. But for him, it was also a way of meeting new and interesting people. It was a winning choice on both counts. The camaraderie, friendships, and knowledge he has gained in the resources and trainings have meant a lot to him, he says, and he has enjoyed the “genuine” people he has gotten to know on the team.

“I found the more you put in, the more you get out of the organization,” he says. “With the constant desire to look for areas of improvement, SAR is always trying to make this experience rewarding for all who care to take the challenge.”

John was born and raised in New Jersey in a large Italian family. His first career was in the newspaper industry, which lasted 28 years. He moved to California in 1983 to work for USA Today, and later for the New York Times. Soon thereafter he got tired of the “rat race,” and decided to take a whole new tack. He activated his New Jersey teaching credential and became a teacher at a continuation high school—first in Martinez, then in Pittsburg. He also earned a master's degree in Teaching Leadership at St. Mary's College. He teaches Art and Microsoft Office … (though not in the same class).

Art is also something he enjoys as a hobby, dabbling in oils when he gets the chance. He's using his artistic talents for SAR, as well, setting up moulage for medical training scenarios.

John also likes to hike and shoot firearms, and most of all, play with his cattle dog, Buster Brown. In his immediate family, besides wife Karen and Buster Brown, John has a 33-year-old son who is a senior software engineer.

When it comes to doling out SAR advice, John offers a tip from his experience: “Take the bumps in the road with the smooth parts and find your comfort zone,” he says. “The rest will take care of itself.”

Searcher Spotlight: Paul Dugan

Paul Dugan has known his wife, Mitzi, since their high school days. Despite all their years together, they are still best friends and happy to partner up for more than marriage. Together, they took a CERT class years ago, and during that class they were influenced by Walter Eichinger to join the SAR team. That was in 2005.

Paul is an Antioch native and just as true as he is to his partner, so he has remained true to his hometown—that is, with the exception of the year he spent serving in Vietnam during the war. He even works for a company called Antioch Building Materials, for which he is a maintenance supervisor and heavy equipment operator.

When he’s not working for pay, he’s working for the other organizations about which he cares. Those include Post 161 of the American Legion (for which he was the commander), a military group, and most recently, the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA). He and Mitzi are working hard to train their two young dogs, Jada and Harley.

For fun, Paul enjoys camping, building hot rods, and riding his motorcycle. The outdoors side of him was drawn to SAR, and he liked the idea of finding people. He says he was surprised, though, how much there has been to learn since he joined. It was also quite a sacrifice to join SAR: He had to shave off a beard he had been growing for eight years!

While Paul and Mitzi currently focus on canine training, they are also both very competent with the Metal Detector Resource, and have participated in many missions.

Paul’s personal SAR motto is very close to the team’s motto: He says, “Always remember we are a team, and we work together so others may live.”

Searcher Spotlight: Jamie Corum

Taking Gandhi’s words “Be the change you wish to see in the world” to heart, Jamie Corum set about to join SAR some years ago, but she thought she had to join law enforcement first. She was willing to do that, but a hiring freeze kept her from her course; that is, until she learned she could work for SAR for free – no hiring freeze here. So she joined the SAR force in 2009.

A self-proclaimed IT computer geek, Jamie has put in some 13 years with the Acalanes School District. When she’s not working – or searching – she also enjoys photography and other art forms, traveling the world (it’s Bali next) and hanging with friends and family (synonymous, she says).

“I also reset myself by doing some adrenaline event like parachuting, bungee jumping or zip lining,” she says.

Raised in the Central Valley, Jamie tried on a few neighborhoods before settling in Martinez. She has also tried on a few vocations, including being a massage therapist, getting ordained and playing semi-pro ball. Clearly, she’s not afraid to step up to the plate.

“I’m generally a git-’er-done kind of girl when in the thick of it,” she says. “There will be time to freak out after the fog has cleared.”

Words she wrote in school a few years ago still apply now, she says. Among them: “I believe in humanity and kindness; I search, I rescue; I love a lot.”

Her SAR advice, besides the most practical “Pee before you go,” consists mainly of reminders to be clue-aware and putting the proverbial shoe on the other foot by being a search subject for the Academy.

“On a cold, rainy night, when they don’t find you or hear you and then leave you … but you can see them,” she says, “it makes you realize why we do what we do: So that others shall live.”

Searcher Spotlight: Dan Coyne

“As a retiree, everything I do is a leisure activity,” says Dan Coyne. That may be true, but you’d hardly call his life leisurely. Besides being an active SAR member since 2008, Dan also volunteers as a senior center driver and has just become an usher for the Lesher Center. He hikes, he travels, he golfs and he is serious about tai chi.

Dan’s son, Christopher, and he currently share their home, but that will soon change when Christopher goes off to law school in the fall. One more place to travel, Dan says.

Dan is an East Coast transplant, having left his native Rochester, NY, for the Army and then college. He finished his graduate degree in labor relations at U. of Oregon (yes, he admits he’s a Duck) and was drafted by PG&E, where he worked for 30 years in all aspects of human resources. He moved around a bit before landing – most likely for good – in Danville.

Several years ago, Dan’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. But she was so supportive of Dan’s involvement with SAR that, in 2009, she encouraged him to answer a callout even as they were headed for her birthday dinner. In 2011, after Mazie died, SAR members returned that support for Dan. “I hope everyone understands how much I appreciated their help,” he says.

Dan’s SAR epiphany came during a search for an Alzheimer’s walkaway. A woman approached him as he was going door to door and told him it was her mother they were seeking. She thanked Dan and the team for being there.

“Later, I thought of what my wife had said on her birthday when I got called out, that if it was her father that was lost, she would want people like me to look for him,” Dan says. “I realized how much of an impact our work has on people – it’s not often that you have the ability to have such a positive impact on total strangers.”

Searcher Spotlight: Larry Shih

Born in Korea to Chinese parents, Larry Shih spent his early years in Korea, then moved to Taiwan for high school. After attending college at S.F. State University here in the U.S., he decided to stay in this country.

After college, Larry went into the hotel business, working as the food and beverage manager for the Hyatt and Marriott hotels, then at the Crowne Plaza and the Embassy Suites in Contra Costa County.
While working, he had time to enjoy his favorite activity—golf. But, because he cares about people and loves to work in local communities, he started volunteering at the Chinatown YMCA 15 years ago. Golf went on the back burner.
After working so many years in Contra Costa County, when Larry decided to join a search and rescue team three-and-a-half years ago, he chose CoCo SAR even though he lives in San Francisco. “I wanted to give back to the county that did so much for me,” he says. Despite devoting a lot of time commuting back and forth for searches, medical details, logistics events, and metal detecting, he also volunteers many hours working with troubled youths, putting his trilingual skills to use while counseling them.
Larry is married and his mother lives with him and his wife. The Shihs’ one son is grown and lives in San Jose.
As Larry gets more searches under his belt, he has found his level of enjoyment grows, and he says he gets great satisfaction from learning how to handle emergency situations.

Searcher Spotlight: Alan Mathews


Nearing his retirement from the Orinda Fire District, Alan Mathews says he sought something to fill the void and keep his mind and body active.

“I thought SAR would be a good fit and keep me working with healthy, active people,” he says. “I haven’t been disappointed.”
Since his college days, Alan has lived the life of a rescuer. At 20, the Walnut Creek native moved to Twain Harte to attend Columbia College where he worked with the school’s fire department. He moved on to Cal Fire as a seasonal firefighter on an engine and heli-tack crew.
Eventually, Alan became an EMT firefighter, and his 30 years of that experience translated well to SAR. He is especially interested in rescue systems, which is a boon to the USAR group. He also teaches first aid and CPR.
While physically active—biking, running, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, crosscountry skiing, and fly-fishing—Alan says he lives, “a quiet and simple life.” He and his wife Denise have three grown kids, a dog, and two cats. He and his sons are working at covering the entire John Muir trail, having taken on about a quarter of it so far. He’s also trying to hit all the trails and fire roads on Mount Diablo, but otherwise he doesn’t venture far from home.
Something about the SAR team that has really stood out to him is how much work so many members do. “I have never seen such a devoted group of people all working together … for no compensation beyond the common good.”

Searcher Spotlight: Mark Moeller

“While all the training and skills we gain and the new friendships we make in SAR are great,” Mark Moeller says, “nothing is as moving as helping to bring closure, good or bad, to the life-changing events of those we serve.”

Because he was interested in rescue operations, years ago Mark joined CERT through the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. Seeking more ongoing activity, in 2008 he joined SAR.

For this Detroit-to-East Coast-to-California transplant, CoCo SAR has provided a “meaningful diversion” from his 25-plus-year career in management in the field of computing services.

He says SAR has provided him with excellent training and, in turn, he’s used his knowledge and skills in a variety of ways, from Hasty Squad, Type I, and USAR, to map creation, trailering, and ATVs. He also credits SAR with making him more effective at his day job and more alert in general.

Mark and his wife, Sandi, enjoy tooling around on their Vespas. They are the parents of three boys and a yellow lab, all of whom keep them busy in everything from pulling the trailer for  the San Ramon High marching band, to leading Boy Scout troops.  Mark has enlisted his youngest son to join him in hiding for the SAR dogs, which he says is a real bonding opportunity.

These words of a 9/11 first responder stick with him: “Remember your best friends: time, distance, and shielding.” That notwithstanding, his favorite piece of SAR wisdom comes from the team’s Coordinator, Rick Kovar: “If it’s wet and not yours, don’t touch it.”

Mark says SAR searches have helped him realize what a difference each of us can make in someone’s life. He is reminded, he says, “how the small things we sometimes sweat need to be let go of in order to live our lives to the fullest.”