SACRAMENTO- There is so much more to saving the lives of people in danger than most Californians ever think about, and in some respects, here in California, it starts with one man - Deputy Chief Matt Scharper.
Scharper, a member of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA), is the State Search And Rescue (SAR) Coordinator for California's Office of Emergency Services. He saves lives. So do the SARS Coordinators from around the state who attended Scharper's 53rd California State Sheriffs' SAR Coordinators Meeting at Cal OES Headquarters January 20-21, 2015.
"I've been the State SAR Coordinator for 16 years and this is what I'm most proud of," said Scharper, pointing to a room filled with SAR Coordinators from 45 of California's 58 counties. The county SAR Coordinators convene on a quarterly basis to review missions and to discuss training, procedures and policies so that search and rescue teams are on the same page should they find themselves in a neck of the woods other than their own.
Coordinating search and rescues can be a daunting task. There is typically a race against time and there are so many tools, equipment, people and resources that can be at the ready. From drones and helicopters, ATV's, boats and planes to mapping, radios, cell phone technology, volunteers and canines. SAR coordinators must think of everything from scene access, protecting evidence if necessary, possible booby traps, and protecting the search and rescuers themselves from danger, including toxic fumes, extreme heat, fatigue, cold or dehydration.
"In addition to SAR Coordinators from California's counties, there are Coordinators from the National Guard here, CHP, State Parks and National Parks," said Scharper. "The cool thing is getting everyone in the same room, so we're all doing the right thing."
Scharper started the quarterly sessions in 2002 and is as passionate about his job as he is about saving lives. Prior to his work at Cal-OES, Scharper worked as Mariposa County's SAR Coordinator.
Some of the SAR missions reviewed by those who attended January's quarterly meeting included the evacuation at Yosemite's Half Dome as an approaching fire raged nearby, the search for a missing Alzheimer's patient in Julian and two plane crashes.
The quarterly meetings address important issues relating to search and rescue administration and operations as they pertain to California's mutual aid system. Local, State and Federal Coordinators convene on the first day and county sheriffs' SAR Coordinators meet separately the on the second day to discuss local issues.
For those who give little thought to search and rescue response and coordination, consider this:
When an off-duty firefighter went missing in tough terrain during a multi-day hike with his dog and a friend in 2014, the search became the largest in Ventura County in 40 years. It was two weeks long and involved more than 100 people, 6700 volunteer hours and 95 helicopter hours. The injuries to SAR members included a snake bite that required 20 times the normal dosage of anti-venom and a week in ICU. Other injuries to searchers included a broken leg, torn muscles and heat-related illnesses.
There is never a shortage of issues or items for SAR Coordinators to discuss, from new training materials and equipment to policies and procedures. It is the groundwork for searching for and saving lives.
"Just the sheer volume of information that comes in to the Office of Emergency Services and the number of search and rescues in California every year, is enough to make your head spin," said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona. "To have someone as qualified and dedicated as Deputy Chief Scharper in the position of State SAR Coordinator is a true benefit to the State and the people of California, to the visitors of California, as well SAR Coordinators around the country. He is a true law enforcement professional."
"We on the Law Enforcement Branch are a team," said Scharper. "The staff of Assistant Chiefs scattered across the state assist with the program as well as the Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Program and the Coroners Mutual Aid Program. I just coordinate the SAR arena and am just one piece to the overall puzzle."