By Mary O’KEEFE
If it seems like there were more stories in the Crescenta Valley Weekly in 2012 about Montrose Search and Rescue – there were.
MSR broke a record in 2012, responding to 113 call-outs. That equates to 3,615 man-hours with the cost to Los Angeles County a staggering $1 per year, per team member.
Montrose Search and Rescue was incorporated in 1947. Since then they have responded to rescues and body recoveries, as well as assisting Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. with everything from traffic control to fire and flood response and everything in between. The team is comprised of volunteers, reserve deputies and deputies under the supervision of Sgt. Burton Brink, reserve coordinator.
“Montrose Search and Rescue has been an invaluable resource to our entire region. They have saved lives and multiplied our ability to save others,” said Congressman Adam Schiff.
The Congressman honored MSR by reading a declaration on the floor of the House last year praising the team and singling out a rescue that involved a drowning child.
“[The record number of call-outs] shows how desperately Montrose Search and Rescue is needed,” he added.
The call-outs included hikers that were lost, cars over the side of Angeles Crest Highway and body recoveries.
“I think the reserves are invaluable,” said Asst. Reserve Coordinator Dep. Jeff Martin.
Each member of the MSR team must attend the LASD Academy. They train every month and at the end of the year do a skill assessment to make certain they are proficient in the use of all the equipment.
“The most [rescues] we had before this year was in 1992 with 105 call-outs and then we have to go back to 1975 with 102,” said Fred Koegler, MSR member for 40 years. “The least number of calls waas 40 in 1971.”
Koegler is the keeper of all statistics for the team. He has information on call-outs for the team from 1947 to today. He knows where those calls were, how many were in Angeles National Forest or out of the county and what days had the most call-outs.
One of the reasons for the increase in calls may be attributed to the team’s extensive training in a variety of areas. They are all trained in mountain rescue but a few are also trained in mine and ice rescues. They also assist other teams out of Los Angeles County, for example a search for a missing hiker lost in a mine in San Diego County. The search, unfortunately, turned into a body recovery.
One of the longest searches was for lost hiker Ertug Ergun who was reported missing on June 20. Ergun was from Turkey but had lived in Bakersfield for two years. He went hiking near Stonyvale picnic area but when he didn’t return, his employer reported him missing. MSR, assisted by Sierra Madre Search and Rescue and LASD Air 5, searched the area.
“We were out there for seven days,” Koegler said.
His body was found in the area. He had apparently fallen near a waterfall. The search received a lot of attention not just from the media but at one point the Consulate General of Turkey visited the area to thank the team for their effort.
One day during the search for Ergun, MSR members Mike Leum and Janet Henderson with Michael Kaae, a handler with search dogs, began walking a trail just off from the Stonyvale picnic area. They had only walked a short way when Henderson noticed a toddler face down in a creek. Leum immediately began performing emergency medical aid and she began to breathe. Henderson, an emergency room nurse, evaluated the child and determined she needed to be transported to the hospital. Koegler was coordinating from a command center set up at the picnic area. L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. Capt. David Silversparre of the CV Station was also there and together they coordinated a helicopter transport as Leum and Henderson carried the child out of the creek area.
“For me the most [memorable rescue for 2012] was the baby save, without question,” said Leum. “That was one of my top three rescues of my career.”
Leum has been a member of MSR for 19 years. Later this year he will be awarded the Golden Teton Award for the most calls responded to by one member.
“Mike responded to 92 calls [this year],” Koegler said. “Ninety-two out of 113.”
Both Koegler and Leum said those that really sacrifice are the family members.
“Nancy [Leum] had to cancel our anniversary dinner because I had a call and over New Year’s the call was from Sunday to Monday. We were on our way to dinner with our older son Hunter,” Leum said.
Nancy and Hunter went to dinner as Leum responded with his team.
Team members are expected to go out on at least 25% of the calls most go beyond that requirement. Leum said he responds when his pager goes off because he knows someone needs help. However responding to that many calls is not easy.
“Nancy is the one that deserves the award, not me,” Leum added.
Henderson, who is MSR’s 2013 captain, will be awarded the Silver Mic Award at the team’s banquet later this year. If responding to calls for help is not enough, the team also does a lot of outreach.
“Out of our 45 PR [public relations], Janet has done 26, “ Koegler said.
MSR is always looking for new team members. It does take dedication and a sense of adventure to make the cut.
“Most people run away from [dangerous situations]; these [people] have to go to it,” Martin said.
Martin responds to many of the call-outs. He added there have been situations where he thought, “I really shouldn’t be doing this.”
He, along with MSR members, worked during the Station Fire. They traveled through the fire to help recover the bodies of Capt. Tedmund Hall and Specialist Arnaldo Quinones, L.A. County Fire. The men had lost their lives at Fire Camp 16.
“It was like driving through hell,” Martin said. “The hills were like lava.”
“Every tree was on fire,” added Koegler.
Often times after the rescues are done, the people go home and the team does not hear from them again, but this year several contacted or spoke up to thank MSR.
On her way home, traveling over Angeles Crest Highway in March, Tracy Granger’s vehicle hit some ice causing her to plunge over the side. The white truck went about 300 feet over the cliff. She spent a night in the frigid cold. The next morning, MSR member Jason Johnson was searching for the missing woman. He noticed some tire marks near the edge of the cliff. It was difficult to see the white truck in the snow from the road. Johnson climbed over the side and found Granger. Members Robert Sheedy and Cindy England were the next to arrive. They assisted, assessing her injuries and preparing a litter [rescue basket] to help bring her to the road.
After her recovery, Granger came back to the scene of her accident where Johnson, Sheedy and England took her over the side and down to where her truck landed. She publicly thanked the team for saving her life. That rescue won the team Rescue of the Year at the Annual Reserve Recognition Dinner in November.
People are not the only rescues that took place this year. MSR responded to four dog rescues. One happened on Dec. 1 as the team was preparing to participate in the Montrose Christmas Parade. Shannon Presby and his dog Sunny were hiking in Dark Canyon. Sunny fell off the side of a cliff and injured himself. Presby hiked out, contacted MSR and Sunny was rescued.
Sunny and his family stopped by to thank MSR for making their Christmas a very special one.
Montrose Search and Rescue members would be the first to give credit to the other agencies that assist them including Los Angeles County Fire, Los Angeles City Fire, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue and L.A. County Sheriff’s Air 5. In addition to all the other emergency responders that work together in effort to help others.