Saturday, October 31, 2015

SAREX 2015 - Annual Meeting of California SAR Teams

By Andew Axley, Eszter Tompos

SAREX is an annual Search and Rescue exercise/training camp hosted by Cal-OES. Teams from all over the state come together to take classes, network and build community. For most of us it's a unique opportunity to compare notes with a variety of other teams and learn about the bigger picture of SAR practices in California. 

This year the event took place in Plasse’s Resort near Kirkwood CA, giving all the participants a chance to train in some challenging conditions that we often have to search in: the Sierra mountains at 7,300ft with smoke choked air from the summer’s devastating fires. BAMRU was not only in attendance for training, but also sent an instructor, Matt Jacobs. He presented on the search management software he’s developed, SARTopo, as well as his enlightening work developing data driven search tactics.


SAREX classes varied in topic from a mantracking course from an expert in the field, Fernando Moreira, to a behind the scenes view of how Cal-OES operates. Another well attended highlight of the weekend was the Air-Ops trainings. Helicopters are increasingly used for searching from the air, transporting searchers to and from remote assignments, and of course extracting those who need to be rescued. Having a chance to work in and around helicopters without the intensity of an actual emergency is important to making sure that searchers can operate in and alongside helicopters safely in the field. After a safety briefing, participants were given a chance to be hoisted and then transported in a Black Hawk helicopter.


Aside from the trainings, SAREX is an event where volunteers from many different counties can catch up with old friends and make new ones. Sometimes that means sharing tips on how to best tie a knot, other times it may mean dancing late into the night at a camp site bedecked with a giant disco ball. The better we all know each other, the more effectively we can work together the next time we meet at a search!

Monday, August 24, 2015

How BAMRU Weekend Warriors Build Their Mountain Sense

by Chris Kantarjiev

Most of BAMRU's trainings are big - 15-20 students and associated
instructors converge on an area and concentrate on sharpening skills in
a very focused and structured way. But another key part of our training
is the "Small Alpine Training Series", in which teams of 4-8 people
spend a weekend in high alpine terrain, practicing a wide range of
skills in the backcountry in a more unstructured way - but one that is
more like what we expect to experience on a backcountry search.


These are typically organized by a Trainee in concert with one of our
full Members; the Trainee is responsible for proposing the agenda,
recruiting attendees, acquiring the permit, planning the route and
activities, and managing logistics. Everyone on the team takes part in
the planning and execution - figuring out what skills to practice (or
get signoffs in), sharing gear, planning for food and water, and
managing comms, medical, navigation, and any required technical gear.


Unlike our regular training schedule, the Small Alpine schedule ebbs and
flows through the year as people's availability does. On a recent
weekend, we had two! One team visited the Yosemite backcountry,
executing a technical ascent of Starr King and an overnight bushwack.
The other team visited the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, practicing map and
compass navigation off trail through dense woods while covering a good
bit of ground and the non-technical Three Sisters peak.


These small trainings give us a chance to better know our teammates and
how they operate in a small team and in the backcountry, as well as
swapping gear ideas and BAMRU lore.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

BAMRU at Western States Endurance Run

This year BAMRU continued the tradition of staffing a team for the medical aid station at mile 85 of the Western States Endurance Run. Seven members volunteered to stay up all night to help ensure the safety and well being of the runners who had made it to that point of one of the most difficult 100 mile courses in the country.

The runners start in Squaw Valley, California and have a 30 hour cut off time to make it the grueling 100.2 miles to Placer High School in Auburn. Some years snow has altered the course, but this year heat was one of the main obstacles. Some of the valleys reached over 100 degrees on race day.

BAMRU's medical crew was responsible for assessing each runner as they passed through the station to make sure they weren't showing signs of what can be dangerous electrolyte imbalances. In addition, we also did a lot of shoe patching, blister care and basic first aid. We were prepared to run up or down the trail to assist any runner in need of aid and even prepared to perform carry outs or evacuations that required the use of our litter and wheel. Fortunately, none of the runners needed this kind of assistance.

We had a great night, met some wonderful volunteers and were inspired by the perseverance and endurance of the runners.

Photos courtesy of Chris Seffens and Ben Yaffe:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Training to be Spiderman

by Tyler Phelan

During the weekend of June 20th, BAMRU hosted its annual Personal Rock Skills course, this year, led by Tyler Phelan. The course was held near Indian Springs campground, about 25 minutes west of Truckee, CA. 

Participants rotated through 6 skills stations on Saturday including: rappelling; ascending a rope using Purcell prussics; anchor building; escaping the belay; knot passing while rappelling and ascending, and finally, skills involved in working effectively around the Edge of a cliff as the Edge attendant. This year the time spent at each station was increased to enable more practice. 

Saturday evening attendees participated in a fantastic night scenario designed by Thom Dedecko and Blake Gleason. The scenario included three missing people with varying injuries and locations. As always, a lot was learned and it was one of the highlights of the weekend!

The weekend was capped with a fun Ropes Course on Sunday, led by Lyndsey Chromik and Adam Garcia. The goal of the course was to practice the skills learned on Saturday, and provide the flexibility for participants to focus on any area they wanted. Adam and Lyndsey had the great idea of making the skills practice into a game of bingo and had delicious prizes for the winners--nice work! 

We already looking forward to Personal Rock Skills 2016! Hope to see you all there!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

New Trainees and Field Member, BAMRU Class of 2015

They suffered through rain, hail and gale, they suffered through poison oak, silly exercises, mock searches, night forays, a lengthy application and an intimidating interview process. Yet they stuck around uncomplaining, eager, helpful, gracious, enthusiastic, ready to put their outdoor skills to good use via Search and Rescue.

We are therefore proud to announce our new trainees:

  • Andrew Axley
  • Brooke Ezra Torf-Fulton
  • Tommy Ingulfsen
  • Natalie Larsen
  • Stefan Prost
  • Simone Schubert
  • Cara Silver

Every spring we select the best of the best to join our ranks. Trainee hopefuls have to attend two meetings and two guest friendly trainings including our SAR Basic weekend, they need to have acquired appropriate medical certifications and come with an extensive outdoor resume. This year we were fortunate to have seasoned SAR professionals from Sierra Madre and New Zealand join us as well. Welcome ALL!!!

But wait, there is more!
We are also over the moon about the promotion of Lindsay Chromik to full fledged Field Member of BAMRU.  Lindsay is a power house, a tour de force, SAR Wonder Woman. Accumulating the most participation hours of all members for the last couple of years, she is there everywhere, all the time, organizing, running things, planning things, generally making things happen. Promotion to field member is proud achievement for all of us, it takes much dedication, hard work and persistence. Congratulations Lindsay!!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MRA Technical Rock Rescue Test and Bonanza

By Adam Garica

On March 7 BAMRU members woke up in beautiful Joshua Tree National Park to participate in this year's Technical Rock reaccreditation. Hosted by Sierra Madre Search and Rescue, the location, weather, and problems couldn't have been better.

A morning briefing let everyone get the last bit of drowsiness out of their system, and before BAMRU knew it we were on our way to the first problem. Our subject was located on the top of one side of a ravine, and while in otherwise good health, a lower leg injury required their evacuation to the ravine floor and out to the trailhead. An advance team quickly made their way to the subject to assess medical condition, and to come up with a rigging plan while the remaining team members unloaded the required gear.



The decision was made to rig a guiding line, which would allow BAMRU to lower the subject and litter attendant to the ravine floor while keeping them suspended above the rock for an easier descent. A rope was strung across the ravine, many anchors were built and double-checked for strength and safety, and after a couple hours the system was moving. The subject and attendant were safely lowered and the litter was then carried out by waiting BAMRU members. From the time we opened our problem envelope to the moment our two proctors called the end of the scenario took four hours, almost to the second.



The team took a quick moment to eat, repack gear, and get ready for the second (and final) problem, and then we were off! The second problem consisted of a stranded climber who had dislodged a rock while rappelling and injured their ankle. When we arrived at the bottom of the cliff we discovered a second party who had been struck by the falling boulder. Priority was given to the injured party on the ground due to the nature of their injuries and their medical condition, and after quickly packaging the subject they were carried to the road by hand, while three BAMRU members made their way to the cliff above the stranded climber to execute a pick-off. One BAMRU member was lowered to the climber, where they tied the climber into their rescue system, and then lowered to the ground without incident.

BAMRU received high marks from our evaluators and celebrated our performance with an excellent dinner provided by Sierra Madre SAR and then conversation and relaxation late into the evening. The next morning some members stayed behind to climb, while most piled into vehicles and began the long drive back to the Bay Area.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

BAMRU Finds Snow - January Winter Training

by Tom Grossman

As a search and rescue team, BAMRU is highly effective at searching the wilderness to find people who want to get home to their loved ones. It turns out that BAMRU is also adept at searching the wilderness to find snow that wants us to play in it. Thanks to the diligent efforts of our Training Team, BAMRU had a productive snow training in Donner Pass area.  
Our Trainees and experienced members practiced the fundamentals of winter mountaineering. Saturday morning we covered crampon travel on snow and ice, including short stretches of front-pointing with a mountain axe.  
Participants also practiced ice axe self-arrest, covering all eight variations plus one oh-BLEEP-I-don’t-have-an-axe-and-I’m-falling-I-need-to-stop-NOW technique, with varying degrees of gracefulness.  
After lunch, we practiced the basics of avalanche rescue, starting with a review of the many different avy beacons now available, then rotating through three stations. First, teams practiced running an avalanche probe line, with particular attention to posting a lookout and keeping an escape round in mind. Second, teams worked on “strategic shoveling” so that a buried avalanche victim can be accessed as quickly as possible. Third, teams worked on beacon search, including situations with more than victim.  
As day turned to dusk, participants worked on starting a survival fire on snow. (Watch for future blog posts on this topic!) 
On Sunday, we spent the morning rotating through three stations. The first was use of pickets, focusing on the T-slot technique that was appropriate for the soft snow conditions. The second stations covered bollards and dead men. The third station practiced snow climbing belays, including the classic hip belay, the venerable boot-axe belay, and also the stand-axe belay, the sit-axe belay which was probably the most popular and stable.  
At lunch we broke stuff. We used a load cell to test snow anchors to failure.  
A boy and his toy
A weakly placed t-slot picket with no backfill failed at around 2.5kN, as did a well-placed snow fluke (technically the fluke never failed, it just started moving towards another zip code under the snowpack).  A well-placed t-slot picket held until the haul-system prusik started to melt at 8kN.   
Picket didn't pull, but prusik slipped at 8kN
The incredibly low-tech stuff-sack stuffed with snow deadman held to at least 7kN (we stopped there to avoid trashing another prusik).  
8kN pull on a bag of snow...
Sunday afternoon was Pick-A-Station. Participants could wander to snow belays (which expanded to multi-pitch snow climbing so folks could practice belays “in context”)snow anchorsand ice axe self-arrest, in order to practice, discuss, experiment, and develop muscle memory. We did self-arrest testing and 8 trainees earned this coveted and hard to get sign-off by successful demonstrating all 9 variations of ice-axe self-arrest.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

BAMRU wins Sheriff's Office Volunteer Group of the Year Award

BAMRU is proud to be associated with the San Mateo County's Sheriff's Office. We are just one of the many volunteer groups that work under the auspices of the Office of Emergency Services. Every year the Sheriff's Office graciously throws a party to honor all its volunteer members. We get treated to a lovely dinner, a performance by the honor guard and awards are passed out to especially notable individuals and volunteer groups.

At this year's event, Sheriff Monk, Sgt Gilletti, and Chris Co (just some of the fine individuals we work with) bestowed upon BAMRU the inaugural San Mateo County Sheriff's Office Volunteer Group of the Year Award for 2014. This recognition is a reflection of our dedication and effort in contributing 16,000+ hours of service this past year, strengthening numerous relationship with the utmost professionalism, thoughtfulness, and self awareness as well as our willingness to reach deep into harms way to help those in need.
The award was a complete surprise to all of us and we are honored to be the first team to receive it.

The plaque will be on permanent display at the Sheriff's Office after a brief tour.