Montrose Search and Rescue: Why Do They Do It?

Photo provided by MSR
Training is ongoing for the Montrose Search and Rescue team with team members often portraying victims of an accident. New team member Will Richards is shown after being strapped into a litter by fellow MSR member Steve Goldsworthy and will be hoisted to the road.

For $1 a year, it’s not the money that makes these volunteers answer the call when someone is in trouble.


“I was off duty at Buckhorn Campground [in Angeles National Forest] on Father’s Day with my father and family members when some kids came running up the trail. They were yelling, ‘Our friend fell off the waterfall.’ I [found] an ANF [worker] who was there with a radio and had him call LA County Fire and Montrose Search and Rescue. I had my medical kit and just sprinted down the trail. I knew exactly which waterfall; I had been there a thousand times before. [I found] a young lady had fallen. She [and her friends] were visiting the area from Colorado and had heard about the waterfall but didn’t know how [to properly access it]. They did the wrong thing; they approached the waterfall from the top where it is real slippery and covered in moss. When she tried to look down [over the top], she slipped and went straight over the falls. Where she fell there was very little water. She fell on her right side and had some pretty bad broken bones, a broken jaw and a leg injury.”

This is Collin Lievense’s recount of a normal day – for him – in the Angeles National Forest. Lievense is a member of the Montrose Search and Rescue team.

Even though Lievense was not on patrol with MSR at the time of the accident, team members are ready for anything at any time. At the falls, there was another person who had just received his EMT certificate who helped Lievense. The female victim was stabilized and air transport was called.

“In Boy Scouts they gave us these signal mirrors and I [remember thinking], ‘When am I ever going to use a signal mirror?’ but I had it in my pack. I heard the helicopter hovering over us for about 10 minutes but they couldn’t see us in the unburned area because [the vegetation] was pretty thick,” he said.

So Lievense found a clearing.

“I actually signaled them with my mirror. I could see the helicopter going away then the pilot saw the reflection from the mirror and turned to come straight back to us,” he added. “Go, Boy Scouts.”

Lievense has completed the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy as well as training with Montrose Search and Rescue. He, along with new team members Will Richards, Paul Zemaitaitis and Steve Oberlander, sat down with CVW recently to discuss MSR and why they devote so much of their time to helping others.

Montrose Search and Rescue was founded in 1947 by a group of Civilian Air Defense members who wanted to help those in their community who became lost or injured in the local mountains. They were initially known as Montrose Mountaineers, according to

The members are volunteers who are paid $1 a year. As volunteers they devote many months to training, must be certified as an EMT (emergency medical technician) and successfully complete the LASD Academy. Zemaitaitis graduated from the academy on Feb. 1, while Richards and Oberlander are considered civilian volunteers, according to MSR team leader Doug Cramoline.

“It was tough,” Zemaitaitis said of the Academy and MSR. “It requires a lot of dedication. It is like a second full time job.”

Zemaitaitis, like most other members of the team, has his everyday jobs and then volunteers for MSR. Zemaitaitis is a technical product manager.

“I write requirements and I work with software developers,” he said.

Most of the MSR patrols, search and rescues are done over the weekend or at night; however, there are times when the team is called out during work hours. Zemaitaitis said that his company has been very supportive of his decision to become a MSR member.

“I think that having that conversation up front [about MSR] is really important,” he said.

Training takes a lot of time. The academy takes six months to complete and then there is about a 12-month training with MSR, but those interviewed said the time spent is well worth it.

Oberlander works for the LASD where he does systems control. He works for the AVSST (audio video security systems). He is not certain yet if he will have to go through the Academy again but is ready to do what it takes to be a member of MSR.

“I started the process a while ago,” he said. “I started coming to the monthly meetings and the first step is you go to a training [session].”

He said he liked the camaraderie of the team.

“Everyone was so dedicated. I just wanted to be part of that and the more I went [to meetings] the more I wanted to go,” he said.

He attended Glendale Community College and took medical courses, including EMT training, and then just kept coming to the MSR meetings.

All four members spoke of a deep dedication to the team and to helping others. Richards was a Glendale Fire Dept. Explorer when he was in high school and liked that path. He knew a few of the members of MSR, so he knew the background of the team and wanted to be part of it. He works as a sales representative in home automation technology; basically he wires smart houses. He has a strong background in technology.

Each member brings his or her specific expertise to the team. Lievense works at Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a resource analyst. All four emphasized that they bring their best to the team to better work as a team.

Although these four are the newest members, they have already made an impact on the lives of hikers and accident victims. Richards remembers being with two other members of the team just prior to getting his EMT certification. They were eating at Newcomb’s Ranch in the Angeles National Forest when someone came in and said there was a car that had gone over the side. Richards, with Deputy Jeff Martin and team member Jason Johnson, responded to the accident and found a vehicle about 80 feet over the side of the road.

“The vehicle was in all these trees and the [male driver] was lying right below the edge of the roadway,” Richards recalled.

The victim was badly injured. Richards stayed with him until the helicopter landed and the victim was air evacuated to the hospital. Richards said he kept the man talking.

“I think this is why we are on this team. I was with this guy for 20 minutes,” he said. “Just the fact that you can give comfort to someone when you know this could be the worst day of their life.”

And that may be the number one reason these members joined MSR.

All the new members had stories to share of the rescues and recoveries they had been on and all agreed the time and training was well worth being able to help someone. To give closure to a missing person, to find a hiker in the middle of the night and to just be that comforting voice to someone who is lost or injured is why they wanted to join this team.

As the interview ended, all four members’ pagers went off. They were called out to a missing hiker in ANF. They grabbed their packs and answered the call.

The Montrose Search and Rescue team meets on the first Wednesday of the month at
7:30 p.m. at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, 4554 Briggs Ave. in La Crescenta.