Mutual-Aid Callout, Marin County

By John Hubinger

On June 25, CoCoSAR received an early-morning mutual-aid call to a search in Marin County at the Bon Tempe Lake on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais. We would be looking for a 38-year-old male who had been hiking in the early evening when he realized, as it was getting dark, that he was lost and contacted his family just before his phone batteries died.

With the fog and rain, this was June’s coldest day so far.

Teams from Marin SAR had been called out at midnight and approximately 20 team members began searching around 1 a.m. The Mutual-aid callout happened circa 4 a.m.

Self-transporting, I arrived at the CP just after 8 and shortly thereafter we heard that the subject had been located in good condition.  At about 8:25, the subject arrived at CP mildly hypothermic, wet, tired, confused and wrapped in a blanket. The incident commander asked me to get the subject a cup of coffee, so when I brought it to him, I was able to listen to his debrief. 

Here is what he said:

After sending a picture text to his family, the subject became aware it was getting dark and he was still about three hours out. Trying to return to his car, he took a wrong turn and instead, headed in the opposite direction. At about 9:30 he called his family saying he was lost and soon after that his iPhone batteries died (so now he had no communication, map or light). He walked another hour until the trail ended, then made the decision to stay put for the night, huddling by a tree and using his hoody for cover and shelter.

At first light, he started to retrace his path and eventually was able to find the right trail. Several teams came very close to him, both at night and that morning, but none saw him.

After his debrief by the IC commander, he was given a full medical by a team of paramedics and the SAR personnel were debriefed, thanked and dismissed.  

Lessons learned:

·       Many moderately experienced hikers go out for “day hikes” without proper clothing, food, water and navigational information.

·       It is not uncommon for hikers to rely too heavily on smart phones (or GPS), only to find they don’t get reception, they run out of batteries or that the phones are of limited value – in this case all of the above!

·       Remembering that a landmark such as a lake was on the “right side” going out and therefore now should be on the left side coming back, doesn’t help if the lake in question is a different lake and you have no map or position on a GPS device.

That last point became clear to me after the assignment was over because I chose to stay to explore and hike the unfamiliar area. I retraced the path of the subject (the path he outlined was fairly clear). About three hours into my hike/run it became quite clear where he might have been when he made that “I think I’m lost” phone call. The whole retrace took me about 6.5 hours (with GPS, water, charged phone, map and some gear – no pack, but more than I usually take trail running on my own). It was interesting to imagine myself in the boots of the lost hiker at the point where he spent a cold uncomfortable evening.

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)

I-Team and K-Team Cultivation Extraction

By John Banuelos

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On an island, a solitary figure awaits the arrival of a support force. He waits in the darkness of a moonless night ready to direct small squads to their final objectives. He listens for the slightest sound of their approach. Some distance away three captains maneuver their sleek, fast boats through the maze of waterways, avoiding the dangerous shoals but moving as fast as possible with their precious cargo of elite squads.

The I-Team stands ready in their camouflage gear, with weapons primed, ready to be the first to step off. Their K-team of search and destroy specialists check and ready their equipment. With quiet nods to each other, members of the K-team signal to all they are ready.

On the stern of one fast boat stands a lone figure. He is former Airborne and a Vietnam veteran. He knows the dangers of this kind of mission, in waters such as these. He alone understand the reality …

And the reality is my daydream was interrupted by a large wave that came over the side onto me as I dozed on the deck of a Sheriff Office (SO) boat. Let’s rewind and start this tale again.

Investigations (I-Team) had once again requested the assistance of CoCoSAR members for the clearing of another marijuana field, an emerging skill set of the team. In this case, this cultivation had been grown on one of the delta’s many islands. This was a first for CoCoSAR.

Our departure was in the early morning (not on a moonless night) of Wednesday, June 5, from the docks of a marina. Three SO boats carried investigation team members who were dressed in their camouflage gear and vests and armed. Along with them was the “klean-up” (K-Team) squad of 18 volunteers armed with gardening tools. Some of us carried our own specialized set of tools honed just for these occasions (machete, anyone?). While we were no Seal Team Six assault force, we all went with the required enthusiasm to do the job and do it well.

Our inside man was the island manager. Upon our arrival onto his island, the leads of both teams went inside the manager’s home to evaluate intel and island maps. Based on the aerial photos, two teams were formed to complete a form of seek and destroy on different parts of the island. Plants were to be completely eradicated and all equipment removed from the island.

One squad went on foot to its appointed location, while a second squad crowded onto a truck and was transported to its. Both squads found their assigned field. Clean lines of growth, three to eight plants across, stretched for 100s of yards. All these lines of cultivation paralleled rows of trees that helped to hide these plants from view. Intermixed with these plants was an effective irrigation system.

Plants were removed and readied for destruction. Irrigation pipes were cut up and bundled for removal. While tools had been brought in to assist in this effort, it was found that these plants could easily be pulled out by hand. Within hours, both squads completed their assigned mission. Time was spent doing additional reconnaissance for other grows in other possible sections of the island. But, no additional grows were found. Our mission was done.

Upon our return we were all able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a cool day, with a warm sun on our faces and the pleasure of delta waters as we sped home. We were mission successful.

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(Photos: Mikel Kinser)

EMR In Action, ctd.

Team member Will McCammon had a recent medical experience:

I was on my way to a Sunday afternoon shift at the County Fair when I came upon a single-car accident on Highway 4. The car had flipped over and the lone occupant was lying on the side of the road surrounded by a small group of people.  As I didn’t see any first responders on scene, I pulled over to see if I could help. 

A big thank you goes to the EMR training staff for constantly stressing the basics because as I got to the subject, I had my gloves on, was asking if 9-1-1 had been called (it had) and was looking for mechanisms of injury (MOI). While the car was an obvious MOI, I wasn’t sure if the subject had been thrown from the car, had gotten out on his own, or was helped out by bystanders.  

The subject was groaning (ABCs – check) but wasn’t responsive to verbal commands (A&O = 0) and only responded to painful stimuli. Bystanders indicated that he only spoke Spanish and they had pulled him from the car. My first thought was C-spine issues and that he should have been left where he was.

As I was thinking this, an off-duty EMT arrived and asked if he could hold C-spine, which I had him do. A second off-duty EMT (who spoke Spanish) was right behind him and attempted to communicate with the subject (get him to stay conscious and stop moving).  During the few moments before the ambulance and fire personnel arrived on scene, we took vitals (high pulse and rapid respirations) and ascertained that he was injured both on his right side and pelvic area.  

As soon as fire and ambulance responders arrived, everything kicked into high gear. They grabbed C-spine and quickly moved into assessing the patient. Within one or two minutes, they were setting up the patient packaging gear and I found myself applying the skills we train on so often. The only variation with our training was the use of Velcro with the cheese blocks and not tape (I am a convert!) and the need to maintain one leg at a 90-degree angle on the board due to injuries.

Although I wasn‘t tracking our time, I believe the total packaging time was around five minutes. This says something about constant training! The subject was loaded into the ambulance and I was able to head off to the County Fair for the rest of my day.

Reflecting on my first medical experience taught me several valuable lessons:

·       Always be as prepared as possible by having BSI and basic equipment such as a CPR mask readily available – I was heading to the County Fair, so I was geared up.  I can’t count on that in a future event unless I plan for it.

·       A big thanks to the EMR training team and their training process – BSI, scene safety, calling for help, ABCs, etc. rapidly came to mind. What wasn’t so easy was when the process didn’t follow our standard scenarios (patient speaks English and is awake, etc.). I need to mentally rehearse and practice thinking outside the easy patient assessment routines and prep for when the process breaks down. This includes ascertaining available help and skills with bystanders. (I was fortunate an EMT was on-hand to hold C-spine.)

·       Practice, practice, practice – My day job does not provide me with any training in the medical arena, so it’s up to me to develop the skills to feel comfortable and prepared if and when the need arises.

Team Commendations, June 2013

Joe Keyser
Joe under took a large task of organizing, scheduling, and planning the recent Type 1 Academy. His overall supervision was definitely “hands on” and his direction challenged a new group of Type 1 students. In end this will greatly benefit the SAR Team.

Tim Murphy
‚ÄčTim was the driver for a recent series of USAR Rope Rescue Trainings that many team members from all levels of experience took advantage of. In addition to the scheduled trainings Tim even agreed to meet students for some extra sessions for some additional trainings. The result will also greatly benefit the SAR Team in our future searches. Good work to Joe and Tim and thank you for you dedication & membership to the SAR Team!

Searcher Spotlight: Nancy Hart

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Searchers swarmed the area in Danville around Nancy Hart's 1950s rancher home one evening this May in an effort to find her autistic son. Of course, this wasn't a real scenario and her son wasn't really missing. But it could have been real, because Nancy has a son with autism (now high-functioning) and who had, in the past, gone missing. 

This time, however, it was a mock search Hasty Squad training and Nancy was in the thick of it.

Autism has been front and center in Nancy's life and it is one of the reasons she joined CoCoSAR in 2005, since she knew autistic children frequently go missing. Also, Hurricane Katrina had just happened and she wanted to be part of a team that could help in a disaster. Those reasons, along with her enjoyment of camping and rock climbing, contributed to her decision to join the team.

Right away she jumped into a high level of involvement, going from EMR to becoming an EMT, writing up the SAR Academy manual and then becoming the academy sergeant for two years. A few years ago, Nancy had to leave the team for medical reasons, but now she's back and raring to go. “I'm really happy to be back,” she says.

Nancy was born in San Jose but moved about a bit before settling in Danville. In her day job she works as an IT project manager for John Muir, but she has also, over the years, put in some serious work toward enlightening others about autism through Cure Autism Now. 

Her children – son Connor is 19, daughter Sarah is 21 – are both in college but to keep her company while they're away she has a dog, a rescue cat and a built-up Land Rover Defender 90 (that she says draws some serious envy). For fun she goes to Disneyland, studies languages (including modern Greek), researches nutritional strategies, reads history, and works in her garden.

Oh. And then there's SAR … again. This time she's going to start by venturing more into USAR training.

The SAR team wisdom that Nancy offers is that “It takes a team to find a person.” 

As an example, she cites a search in which she and her teammates spent several hours simply standing on a road. 

“The strategy was to flush out an autistic boy by moving him forward with the noise of searchers and helicopters,” she says. “It worked! He was found that day after spending a night in the woods.”

In essence, “even though a team member might not get a very glamorous assignment, everyone plays an important part,” she says. “All I did was stand on a road. If I hadn't done my part along with everyone else doing their parts as perimeters, the strategy would not have worked.”

So now she's back and ready to do her part.

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.
 

Summer Is Here

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By Nancy Hart

Our summer Search and Rescue missions can bring us into some long hot days. It's important to know the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses for ourselves, for our subjects, and for our teammates. I know this well now after my experience at this year's County Fair. It was in the upper 90s on Friday and a whopping 105 degrees on Saturday. Even with sunscreen, I was sunburned on Friday. My body's cooling system just couldn't keep up on Saturday with the burn and the even higher temperatures. Although I drank plenty of water and wore sunscreen, I still succumbed to heat exhaustion by late Saturday. And like the subject in Diane Blue's scenario at last month's full team training, I tried to keep going!  Thanks to a teammate who kept insisting I had too much sun, I finally signed out and spent the next two days nursing a headache and staying indoors. Be safe out there!

Heat Illnesses To Be On The Watch For

Heat edema (and it starts)
Heat causes blood vessels to dilate (open up) and as the body is starting to have trouble with using salt to sweat out, fluid will pool in the hands and legs. Ever get those puffy fingers when running or hiking?

Heat exhaustion (milder initial stage)
Move into an air-conditioned environment and don’t go back out into the sun for at least a day or two or the condition will return and possibly be worse!
• profusely sweating
• rapid weak pulse
• rapid breathing (just can’t “catch your breath”)
• blood pressure drops when standing up (you feel dizzy)
• fatigue (you might feel a little “out of it” and “tired”)
• reddened face changes to -> pale, cool, and moist
• headache
• muscle cramping
• nausea (sometimes vomiting)

Heat stroke (next stage, can be deadly!!)
Immediately get out of the sun, in an air-conditioned room preferably, and sponge cool water on the skin. Call for an ambulance to the emergency room.
• sweating has stopped!! – skin is dry, red and hot (body’s sweating mechanism has failed)
• body temperature is up over 101 degrees F
• confusion (Can your teammate or subject remember where they are? What the plans were for the day? What day of the week it is? Their name or your name?)
• throbbing headache and nausea
• severe cramps (as if muscles are encased in cement and you can’t move)
• pulse is fast, breathing rapid, blood pressure low

CDC Facts on Heat Illness, Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke
 

Searcher Spotlight: Brian Mapel

DSC09144“Basically I’m still a kid playing with erector sets and Tonka toys; it’s just that the sandbox is a little bigger now.”

That’s how Brian Mapel sums up his career as an engineer. A graduate of Santa Clara University who earned his business master’s at Cal, Brian now owns his own firm that provides temporary structure designs for large infrastructure projects.

 “We get to dream up all kinds of unorthodox solutions and then go build them … stuff you’d never get away with in the world of permanent design,” he says.

But even with all this expertise, he still learned something from his three years of CoCoSAR experience that he has translated into his paid work.

“On one of our projects last year we hauled a 100,000-pound excavator up a dam face using a haul system I modeled off of something (Tim) Murphy showed me in USAR,” Brian says.

Brian, though, gives as good as he gets, offering his skills to proctor for USAR and his experience in leadership (gleaned, in part, from his time as a tank commander in the Army) for all team activities.

His younger years were spent in the southern part of the state and country (Los Angeles and Houston) with a tight-knit family. After a few more moves he landed in Martinez, despite the fact that his parents and one of his siblings, with whom he is very close, still live in L.A. But he and his sister have often met up for trips overseas to such places as Thailand, New Zealand and Japan.

Besides travel, he also enjoys backpacking and kayaking, live music, theater and art. And in addition to these activities and a stressful job that sounds like it should take up ALL of his time, he still spends about four months a year leading a group of professionals in mentoring high school kids with an eye toward interesting them in architecture, construction or engineering.

And then there’s SAR.

 “My teammates make SAR worth the work and the effort. I could take any handful of people on this team and show you a handful of exceptional people,” he says. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who are passionate about what they do, and this team just exemplifies that. It’s a real pleasure every month to spend time with this group.”