1) How long has CCSAR been around?
It began in 1981 with a small group of firefighters from Ebbetts Pass Fire who saw the need for different skills when responding to off-road emergencies. There was growing public interest in wilderness adventure, and an increasing number of stories about young lives that could have been saved by a search and rescue response.
2) What kind of searches do you do and how often?
Foot or ground searches are the most common, usually assisted by trained search dogs. About 1/3 of our searches require helicopter assistance or evacuation. Technical rescues, swift water and rope, are required about 25% of the time.
The sheriff’s office receives about 60 calls per year for search and rescue aid. Of these, 15-20 require a full SAR response, often over multiple days. Some responses are to other counties within California, part of our mutual aid commitment to California’s Office of Emergency Services.
3) What types of training do you emphasize?
We train for the types of searches we do in Calaveras County. Most are ground searches in wilderness terrain. Navigation, tracking and communication are heavily emphasized. Technical rescues are high risk. Even though these represent about 20 – 30% of our rescues, we spend considerable time practicing these techniques to be more efficient and safe. Cave rescues are infrequent, but due to their extreme difficulty we stage one rescue scenario each year at a local commercial cave.
4) How much time does each member spend on training?
In total, the average volunteer puts in over 120 hours/year on their training and certifications. This is roughly 3 weeks of full time work and does not count time toward equipment maintenance or actual searches. This can add another 120 hours/year.
5) Do you do any community outreach on wilderness safety?
Hug-a-Tree is our most successful program. We’ve delivered this wilderness safety program to over 12,000 youngsters. Taught weekly during the summer at Big Trees State Park, this program educates both parents and children on the practices that will prevent them from becoming lost. If it happens, the children understand what to do to survive the elements and give searchers the needed clues to find them. Our program was awarded the prestigious Lifesaving Award by the Sheriff’s Office.
6) What kind of fundraising do you do?
The team raises funds every year to maintain or replace gear, pay for training, purchase vehicles and improve our facilities. We do this through local fundraising and grants. We also have capital campaigns to raise funds for specialized equipment.
Our team members do all the fundraising work. Since we are 100% volunteer, this means that donations pay for equipment and training, not fundraising costs.