|Frequently Asked Questions|
In emergencies, when someone is lost or hurt,
SAR does not have an office or office hours, because SAR volunteers work at their paying jobs during the day. However, you can reach most key contacts by e-mail. See our Contact Us page for specific information.
Q: Is this website for all of El Dorado County, including South Lake Tahoe? Or is it only for the "West Slope"?
This website takes in all of El Dorado County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, including our South Lake Tahoe Division. At this point in time, you can locate SLT Division's website by going to "Members" in the top menu, clicking on "Teams" and then on "Tahoe Team". Soon we will have SLT Division incorporated more fully into this main website for continuity and ease of finding information. At that time, where SLT Division has differing policy or practices due to their geographic location, we will have a link to their specific information on this website.
Q: How does a search get started?
It usually starts when someone calls 911. The 911 dispatcher asks some basic questions, and then if it sounds like a SAR, and not a runaway or a missing person, she will dispatch a Sheriff's Deputy. The Deputy interviews the reporting party and does a quick search of the likely places, then calls a SAR Coordinator. The SAR Coordinator, who is also a Sheriff's Deputy, determines the urgency of the situation and decides what SAR specialty teams are needed. He phones a Callout Coordinator who starts phoning SAR members at home and at work. As volunteers arrive and the search gets into full swing, the SAR Management Team takes over planning and operation.
Q: How many missions do you go on annually?
On the west slope, we get about two dozen callouts in an average year. In the Tahoe area, you can expect as many as forty or fifty missions a year.
Q: What kinds of calls do you typically get?
The "typical" incident depends on where you are. The typical west slope callout is for a lost person. This kind of incident needs large numbers of people, requires a command post, and typically lasts from 12 to 36 hours. In contrast, the Tahoe team seems to get more injured people in known locations. Often, a team can hike in and carry the patient out to an ambulance in a few hours. See our Searches section.
Q: Do you ever travel to other places?
Yes. Several times a year we get mutual aid requests to help search in other counties, or in Yosemite National Park.
Q: What was your longest search?
The search for Kenny Miller in 1992. It went on for eleven days and involved searchers from all over Northern California, from Nevada, and from the U.S. armed forces. His body was found a few days after the search ended.
Q: Do you find a lot of fatalities?
No. Although we do get a few, most people are alive and very happy to see us.
Q: Do search and rescue teams ever get lost?
Our official answer is, "What a silly notion." Next question please. And stop that smirking.
Q: Doesn't SAR take up a lot of personal time?
It takes as much time as you let it. There's always another team you can join, more training you can take, and more jobs you can volunteer for. You have to balance SAR with your family, your job and your tolerance for stress.
Q: How much do you spend on personal gear?
From $50 to $200 to get started, depending on how much equipment you need. Most outdoor-oriented people already own the majority of the required gear. (What you you'll want after you get into SAR is another matter entirely.)
Q: Does your company give you paid time-off for searching?
Not usually. Most of us take vacation hours or time off without pay.
Q: How many teams are there in EDSAR?
There are four distinct units, two of which are further divided into specialty teams.
Sierra West Unit
EDSAR is the El Dorado County Sheriff's volunteer search and rescue team. ESARC is a non-profit corporation that does many things for EDSAR, not the least of which is raising money. There's more about ESARC on the Council page.
Q: How do you raise money?
(1) ESARC holds one major fundraiser, our annual Crab Feed.
(2) We accept proceeds from Run on the Sly.
(3) We accept voluntary donations.
(4) We write proposals for grant money
(5) SAR teams get some help from the Sheriff's Department.
Q. If I'm asked to donate money to search and rescue, how do I know the group is for real?
In El Dorado County, the only legitimate SAR fundraisers are sponsored by the El Dorado Search and Rescue Council and the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol. However, from time to time, certain shadowy, disaffected or militant groups call themselves "Search & Rescue" to gain respectability and funds. California seems to be home to many such organizations. If you have questions about a group, contact the Sheriff's Office at (530) 621-5655.
Q: Are you the only SAR team in the County?
No. There is a Nordic Ski Patrol team sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and staffed by volunteers. Also, one of the County fire agencies maintains an Urban SAR Team which specializes in collapsed building and confined spaces.
Q: Do you have a training program for search dogs?
Yes. The search dogs in El Dorado County are trained and certified through CARDA.
Q: What kinds of a dogs make good search dogs?
Although the classic search dog is the bloodhound, many other breeds are used successfully. Search dogs should not be aggressive and should be thoroughly socialized. Beyond that, large dogs have an easier time in rough country, and short haired dogs don't collect so many burrs and stickers. But all breeds of dogs can be found in SAR.
Q: Can I bring my dog with me to SAR events?
You can bring a dog to search only if it's a search dog. You can bring it to training if it's a search dog trainee.
Q: I have a dog that I'd like to donate to SAR. Is there anyone I can call?
The California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) specializes in training and using search dogs. You can call them at (916) 989-4989 or visit their website at www.carda.org.
Q: Does El Dorado County have a helicopter?
No. From time to time the subject has been discussed, but it's never gotten off the ground (pun intended).
Q: Whose helicopter do you use?
We usually call on the California Highway Patrol helicopter (H-20) based in Auburn, although we also receive assistance from the Sacramento Sheriff, Fallon Naval Air Station, local TV stations and the National Guard.
Q: Do SAR teams get to fly in helicopters?
Occasionally. Obviously, foot searchers and dog handlers tend to fly more often than 4WD and mounted teams. Nevertheless, a helicopter safety course is required for all EDSAR members.
Q: Is SAR work dangerous?
Sometimes it's literally a walk in the woods, but other times a mistake can have serious consequences. Obviously it depends on the task, the weather, and a dozen other variables. We take stringent safety precautions. Occasionally we have a twisted ankle or a bee sting, but injuries to EDSAR members are pretty rare.
Q: Do you ever have to search alone?
No. We are strict about always sending people out in teams.
Q: What if I, a new searcher, get separated from my team during a search?
It's the team leader's job to keep track of the team. But if you do get lost, use your radio. If you don't have one, stay put and your team will come looking for you. (They don't call us Search & Recue for nothing!)
Q: Have there been any serious SAR accidents in El Dorado County?
Injuries in SAR are rare. In the most recent incident, a helicopter from Fallon Naval Air Station crashed while on a search near Georgetown in 1996. All six Navy crewmen were injured (no EDSAR members were on board). We had all six people en route to hospitals within 45 minutes. All of them survived. No EDSAR searcher has ever died as a result of a SAR-related accident.
Q: How do you assure the safety of SAR workers?
- Required classes include first aid, CPR, aircraft safety, survival, etc.
- Optional classes include marijuana awareness, fire zone safety, etc.
- Even ordinary classes have safety sections. For example, our radio class includes warnings about gasoline spills, blasting caps, etc.
Second, our field policies take a safety-first approach:
- We never send anyone into the field alone.
- 75% of our required gear is safety-oriented.
- Every team has a radio, and we do welfare checks regularly.
- Searchers are normally not allowed to enter mineshafts or caves.
- No one can go into the field without First Aid and CPR training.
- We do not use SAR teams to hunt down armed fugitives or armed suicides.
- A person can turn down an assignment if he or she thinks it's too risky.
- For rescues on or near water, we make everyone wear a flotation device and a helmet.
First, safety is a constant theme in SAR training. For example:
Q: Can searchers carry a firearm?
No. An openly carried firearm discourages cooperation from the people you meet, and a pistol in your pack is so hard to reach it's probably useless.
Q: Can searchers carry pepper spray?
Yes. Pepper spray is reported to repel bears. As a practical matter, however, bears are not a big threat locally.
Q: What tips can you give people going into the wilderness?
Be prepared for the unexpected night out. That means carry extra water, food, a jacket and a lighter. If your car becomes disabled, stay with it — a car is a lot easier to spot than a person, and it has loads of built-in survival gear (gasoline, flares, mirrors, a horn, shelter, etc.).
Q: Is there any specific equipment you recommend?
- A large plastic trash bag makes a rain coat if you rip holes for your head and arms.
- A whistle works even if you shout yourself hoarse or if you have broken ribs.
- For adults, a disposable butane lighter to light fires with.
- Extra food and water.
- A jacket. Nighttime in the Sierras is nearly always cold.
Q: Can I drink water from streams?
We recommend you purify it first with purification tablets, filtering, or boiling. However, if you're lost, go ahead and drink stream water. Thirst is a greater threat than disease, and chances are you'll be just fine anyway.
Q: What about mountain lions?
In 1994 a female jogger was killed by a mountain lion here in El Dorado County. It was the first such fatality in California since 1910. Since then, press coverage has created an aura of danger, but mountain lions don't watch the news. However, hunters should be aware there are reports of lions being drawn to game calls. In April 1999 a turkey hunter shot and killed a mountain lion that tried to attack him and his partner. See our reference page on Mountain Lion Habitat or Living with California Mountain Lions at the Department of Fish and Game's website to learn what to do if confronted by a lion.
Q: What is the best way for me to find out if I really want to become involved?
We encourage new prospects to come to SAR meetings and talk to members. The new member packet also includes some descriptions of SAR work.
Q: If I want to join, how do I get started?
Fill out an application, which you can get at a meeting. The procedure also involves an interview, medical check, fingerprinting, and a background check. Once you're accepted, you will be assigned to a Field Training Officer during your initial training period. The whole process is outlined on our Membership page.
Q: Can I join if I'm not in great physical condition?
Yes. On search, most people either ride (four wheel drive vehicles, horses, motorcycles, etc) or they work in base camp. The most strenuous activities are foot search and canine search.
Q: Do I have to join all of the SAR teams?
No. Many SAR members join several teams, but it's not a requirement.
Q: Since we're always on call, do I have to get rid of my answering machine?
No, you can keep it. But remember to turn it off at night so we can wake you.
Q: When can I go on my first search?
You can go on a search with your Field Training Officer after you:
- Are trained in First Aid and CPR
- Have all the required equipment
- Have a uniform shirt
- Have an orientation with your Field Training Officer
Q: Do I have to go on every mission?
No. We understand if people can't make it because of job or family obligations. However, searches take longer when you're not here, so we do ask members to make 50% of searches, meetings and trainings.
Q: If I have a home emergency while I'm on a search, will I be able to leave?
Yes. If you don't have a pager, your family can call the Sheriff's reception desk (621-5655) or the Central Dispatch business number (621-6600). Central Dispatch will call the Deputy in charge, and he will have the SAR radio operator call you.
Q: Can someone guide me in purchasing equipment?
Yes. Nearly anyone will be happy to give you their opinions, sometimes at great length! Your FTO can help you, too.
Q: Do I have to pay for the uniform?
Yes. It costs about $40 for the shirt, patches and hat. You must sew the patches on yourself. If you're not adept, a dry cleaners that does alterations can sew the patches on for a fee.
Q: Is there ever a SAR swap meet where members sell their used equipment?
We have tried a couple of swap meets at other events, but they never seem to attract enough interest. It's a good idea, but like other SAR projects, it probably needs an evangelist to gauge the interest, promote it, round up participants, and run it.
Q: Can a SAR worker be held responsible if something happens to the search victim?
If you mean responsible in the legal sense, probably not. You are not personally liable unless you are extraordinarily negligent (i.e., you did something that made the patient worse, even though you should have known better). As a practical matter, it is almost unheard-of for volunteer SAR teams and SAR members to be sued, and even rarer for them to lose in court.
Q: Can SAR workers enter private property to search?
Not unless you get the owner's permission. If it's late at night, ask the command post to give the owner a phone call.
Q: What happens if I, a SAR worker, don't follow a command for good reason?
You are allowed to turn down an assignment if you feel it is too risky, or if it would trash your equipment or vehicle. However, simple obstinacy (like refusing to fetch lunches because you think it's beneath you) are grounds for disciplinary action or termination. So is insubordination (such as refusing an order to reveal what you know during an investigation).
Q: If I, a SAR worker, get hurt, how should I report it?
Tell the Sheriff's Deputy assigned to your unit, and he or she will take it from there. Even if you don't need to go to the emergency room, getting it on the record lets you submit a claim later if it becomes necessary.
Q: What does it cost to run a search?
A reliable hourly rate is probably impossible to figure, but the biggest expenses are:
- Wages for 1-2 deputies
- Food for the searchers
- Fuel for the vehicles
Because the volunteers donate their time and personal equipment, Search & Rescue is one of the more cost-effective government operations.
Q: Does the lost person have to pay the cost of a search or a rescue?
No. The County where person lives can be billed, but not the lost person. There's a good reason SAR doesn't charge for its services. How many people would call for rescue promptly if they thought it would cost them money?
Q: Then why are some people charged for search efforts?
Because they disregarded the rules and got into trouble as a result. The most common case is when skiers go out of bounds. Also, in some National Parks, such as Denali in Alaska, mountain climbers can be charged for SAR efforts if they are so grossly inexperienced or unprepared that they get in over their heads.