Sixty-seven years after its founding, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue (SMS&R) continues to stand ready to serve any members of the community that find themselves in the wilderness and in need of help. In order to do this, members take part in a constant cycle of reviewing their work and training for the future. As the new year turns over SMS&R is looking back at 2018 and preparing for 2019.
In 2018 SMS&R responded to 85 operations and assisted 98 subjects. 46 of these operations were searches and 39 of the operations were rescues. The majority of the subjects the team assisted were hikers, but in 2018 they also aided four mountain bikers, three dogs, and two Alzheimer’s patients.
In 2018 the team responded in mutual aide to other search and rescue teams 17 times. Some of these calls were in neighboring Altadena, but other calls took the team as far away as Santa Barbara and Alpine County. The team also provided medical support for three trail races, and conducted seven wilderness safety classes for Boy Scout troops and other community groups.
Every operation the team responded to was reviewed and critiqued as part of the team’s continual efforts to provide quality aide to those in need. After every operation the participating members take time to review the event before they head back home. At monthly team meetings the entire team also invests the time to critique every operation. Sometimes small details are honed through critiques. After rescuing a subject who became stuck on a steep slope when wandering off trail, the team noted that the rescue at this location was best executed with a 300 foot rope. It is now standard practice to take a 300 foot rope with one of the first crews in the field when responding to this location.
Other times larger patterns are discovered. This year the team noticed an increase in calls to assist stranded hikers in the Jones Peak area. As a result, the members dedicated time training in the area. They used a drone to capture images of the difficult terrain and spent time in the field specifically evaluating how to best effect future rescues in the area.
There is a lot to reflect on in 2018, but SMS&R is also looking to the future. With winter upon the team, they are dedicating as much training possible for the next few months for winter operations.
Responding to calls in the snow and ice requires a distinct set of skills. Rescuers must know how to travel safely and effectively with snowshoes and crampons. They must be able to evaluate snow and avalanche conditions and be proficient in using their ice axes to arrest a fall on an icy slope if needed. Team members wear avalanche beacons and know how to respond if a teammate is caught in an avalanche. They are prepared to spend snowy nights camped out in the field if the need arises.
Patients also require unique care in the winter. From the way they are warmly packaged in a litter designed for use in the snow to the techniques used to haul the litter out by pulling it across the snow, winter requires its own specific skills.
SMS&R has dedicated three weekends in January and February to honing these skills. A large portion of every team member’s time is spent in training. Over the course of 2018 the team accrued 12,115 hours of training. Including all of their training, operations and other activities the team accumulated 18,295 hours of service.
Sierra Madre Search and Rescue is an all volunteer organization that is completely funded by donations. No fees are ever charged for their services. If you would like to support the work that they do, visit smsr.org to make a donation. If you are interested in becoming a team member, visit the ‘Recruiting’ page at smsr.org.