On Feb. 27, 15 team members spent their morning with the Mutual Aid Mobile Field Force (MAMFF) teaching some 60-plus members of various law enforcement agencies how we at CoCoSAR conduct USAR rescues. At six stations, SAR members either proctored or performed the roles of subjects so that MAMFF participants could get some hands-on experience.

Stations included how to conduct a hasty search and mark the buildings; structure triage and recon; patient packaging; and three stations each employed one aspect of the ladder-rescue system.
The event was well-received and all good intentions lean toward another paired training in the future.


February Full Team Training: Mock Search

This year’s nighttime mock search training took place Feb. 9 in Morgan Territory. The training was developed by Explorer Patrick Walker as part of his endeavor to become an Eagle Scout. With the help of mentor Joe Keyser, Patrick set up a search scenario involving a plane crash with multiple subjects.

At one point, three rope rescue teams were employed, and medical skills came into play. The equestrians got an opportunity to enhance their training, as did some newcomers to the Command Post. All subjects were found and returned to base (searchers, too), even though the team learned that communications at Morgan Territory can be sketchy, at best.

Maintaining MRA Accreditation: Snow and Ice

By Joe Keyser

The CoCoSAR Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) participated in the annual Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) reaccreditation at June Mountain Ski Resort in the town of June Lake on March 2. (The MRA requires reaccreditation in one of three core skills every year; this year it was snow and ice rescue.)

Sixteen CoCoSAR team members gathered at the resort with the goal of maintaining CoCoSAR's MRA certification. They were among more than 20 teams from all over the California region seeking reaccreditation. 

CoCoSAR has been training since November on Mt. Diablo and at Donner Pass in order to perfect skills in the two disciplines the team was required to demonstrate at June Lake: avalanche rescue and technical snow and ice rescue systems. To test the team's ability with technical snow and ice rescue systems, two observers accompanied the team up a 35- to 40-degree snow slope to a GPS location. At this time, the observers designated a random team member as the subject to be lowered about 500 feet down to a road. The team quickly assessed snow conditions, built anchors (in terrible snow), assembled main and belay systems, and assessed and packaged the patient and lowered him down the slope.

Next the team was required to locate a buried avalanche beacon in a simulated avalanche area in 20 minutes or less. It took the team about 20 minutes to prove conclusively, using transceivers and a grid search, that there was no beacon buried in the assigned area. After event organizers did a quick huddle, they realized CoCoSAR's beacon was buried in a different avalanche zone. Once directed to the right avalanche zone, the team found its beacon (and a second buried for another team) in half the required time limit.

The two proctors assigned by the MRA to observe the team came away very impressed by the teamwork, knowledge, and skills displayed by CoCoSAR team members. The proctors passed the team on both stations. Overall the event was an excellent opportunity for the team to show off its technical rescue skills, network with other SAR teams from around the state, and certify its standing as one of the premier search and rescue teams in California.

Pictures courtesy of Karen Najarian:

There is Honor in Hiding for the Canine Resource

By John Banuelos

As a hider, you are placed in an obscured and isolated location. A hider comes prepared for the duration of a hide with food, drink and weather appropriate clothing. Endless arrays of distant and familiar sounds, along with not-so-familiar sounds surround you. You acquiesce to the dependency that a dog and a searcher will find you.
Night prompts the notion that a hider’s location may truly be a secret place. There is only blackness and silence to keeps a hider company, punctuated by unfamiliar sounds. You hope for the familiar ring of the search dog’s bell.
As a hider, you experience what a lost subject would feel without the benefit of food, water or appropriate clothing. Team members Lisa McGraw and Danny Jaramillo have felt the lost subject experience often and sometimes in harsh conditions.
The Canine Resource wishes to thank both these members for their repeated contribution to the resource as hiders. Lisa and Danny have come out to hide in the worst of conditions and have endured long durations of isolation to help all six members of the Canine Resource.
When you see Lisa and Danny next, ask them about their experiences. Better yet, take the time to hide for our dogs. Gain a taste of what a lost subject feels, plus the exhilaration of being found.

CoCoSAR Snow and Ice Adventure

(Or, How a Zero-Degree Night Makes for Warm Friendships)

By John Banuelos

MRG members have been training for an MRA Recertification in Snow and Ice rescue for a number of months near Donner Pass. Todd Rogers, as the MRG operations corporal, decided to conduct an overnight snow-camping experience coupled with exercises in how to build emergency snow shelters on the weekend of Jan. 23 and 24.

Three members of MRG took him up on his offer (John Banuelos, Chris Coelho, and Matt Shargel), along with three Type 2 CoCoSAR members (Kristl Buluran, Pat Dodson, and Natalie Zensius) and two Type 1 members-in-training known as the Riggs twins – all giving up the warmth of their own beds to enjoy a frigid night on the snow.

As is the tradition of CoCoSAR, fellow team members helped make sure everyone was stocked with everything they would need for snow travel, including a proper shelter and a suitable sleeping bag. Kristl’s coach, Mark Sembrat, made every effort to properly gear his charge, which included a minus-20-degree bag. As it happened, Kristl was possibly too well geared, and an intervention was required to reduce her pack weight and equipment bulk. 

Post the S&I training, at 1600 hours Saturday, Todd gathered his band of eight and off we marched towards Castle Peak, in the Tahoe National Forest. With Matt and Todd at the lead, and I as the sweep, we covered lovely terrain while passing people on touring skis and snowshoes who were heading back to their cars. We pressed deeper over a snow-covered meadow and through the forest. While the dims lights of sunset helped maintain the views, it was clear that the growing dimness would soon bring a rapid drop in temperatures. 

We found a campsite just before dark and everyone prepared their place on the snow, pitched their tents, and readied for the night to come. Some tents would be shared, while others would have a single individual. One (unnamed individual) even pitched a simple but claustrophobic bivy. Eventually all of us gathered at a common site, our tribal response to the environment, to prepare meals and tell tales. Matt told his ghostly tales of searches from times past, somewhat embellished. Others merely chatted. It was our time to perform the campfire ritual that bonds a tribe and only the cold of the night drove us to our shelters. It would reach zero degrees before dawn. All were in bed by 2000 hours.

Some slept as cozy as at home. Others felt the chill despite their best preparations. Bottles of water froze. Each member faced a small crisis or two in the night, with the snow and cold increasing any discomfort. The warmth of the dawn sun would be most welcomed by all.

Todd, on the other hand, found a different way to warm all of us up: learning and preparing snow shelters.

Shovels in hand, after a lecture and examples of fine designs, we all began our constructions. Some were tragedies in the making, others would surely save a life, one was a virtual palace that could house several individuals. No matter the outcome of our designs, all members were fully warm as we spent hours digging and refining designs. Zero degrees, icy breathes and small discomforts became a distant memory.

As the sun truly began to warm the day, we broke camp and began our trek back to the vehicles. While not all had the best of nights, we all enthused about another night to camp in the snow. Why?  Everyone had new tales to share at the next gathering around a fire.

January Explorer Training

By Walter Eichinger

The Explorer Unit had a searcher safety and basic self-defense training at UFC Gym in Concord on Jan. 28. Nineteen Explorers joined advisors Walter Eichinger and Natalie Gore and trained with UFC Martial Arts instructor Marc Fickett for the two-hour training.

First discussed and reviewed were all the searcher-safety and team-safety techniques to use while out in the public and, in particular, in the late-night hours. We reviewed keeping a safe and proper distance from field interviews, knocking on doors when doing interviews, and keeping in contact both visually and verbally with fellow team members out in the field.

In the second half of the training, the Explorers participated in basic self-defense skills to better protect themselves and escape from an attacker. Kicking, punching and blocking techniques were taught, simultaneously providing a good workout.
Everyone survived the training in good health and a good time was had by all.

January Full Team Training: CPR

January’s monthly training was the full-team CPR training, an annual event, during which everyone took the American Red Cross CPR recertification exam. The rest of the time was split between a well-presented overview and demo by Mike McMillan, followed by numerous stations. Team members refreshed (or learned new) skills in infant and adult CPR, choking, using AEDs, and taking vital signs. All of these skills, like most of those learned for SAR, are perishable and need to be practiced often in order to be used with confidence when the need arises.

Full-Team Training, November

November’s full-team training at the Sheriff’s Range was a first on several fronts: With 117 SAR members and an assortment of non-SAR Reserve members, the numbers rose to over 130 for the event, making this the largest training yet. It was also a first in combining the two units in a training (SAR and Reserves) and for the content, which was geared predominantly toward firearm awareness and safety.

Members who had never handled a gun had the opportunity to shoot (with careful supervision). Others who had experience with guns tested their aim in a timed match. But it wasn’t all guns – there were stations covering officer safety, personal safety, and several medical stations, including one that focused on officer-specific medical scenarios. A social time with a barbecued lunch provided by Office of the Sheriff volunteer food service workers and an enthusiastic motivational speech by Assistant Sheriff Sean Fawell made the day complete.

USAR Training Recap

On a blustery, wet day November 10th, 23 USAR Resource members gathered at Rock City for an intensive five hours of rope training. Though cold and soggy, this hardy group kept to the schedule to stay the course for the 2012 USAR curriculum.
This training represented a significant milestone for the USAR Resource, marking a shift (over the past two years) from a skills focus to an operational focus. Whereas previous trainings relied on heavy instruction and repetition, mainly covering individual aspects of rope rescue, the November training put it all into action. All the rope rescue curriculum's collective skills (beginning to end) were deployed for operational sequence, details and cadence.
For a few of the senior members of the team, additional attendant instruction was given in a high-angle context. For others who were new to rope rescue (or needing a refresher course), Laishan Yee and Vince Kwan led a thorough point-by-point explanation of the systems.
The training concludes the formal USAR trainings for 2012, and Jeremiah Dees, Tim Murphy and Steve Filippoff are getting busy planning for 2013.