While each has their own unique story as to why they joined the team, each and every member of the Santa Clarita Valley Search and Rescue team shares a common mission: to help others.
Their day jobs range from engineers to school teachers, television producers to electricians, yet all volunteer their spare time to help their local community.
“That’s what’s good about (the team), everybody’s got different backgrounds … everybody brings something different (to the team),” said Tony Buttitta, SCV SAR team leader. “All that life experience helps, even with stuff like this.”
Moreover, each team member has a calling to help people, like avid hiker Michael Tolchard, who said it was after he’d found himself in enough situations where he was unable to help a fellow hiker in distress that he took interest in joining SAR.
Similarly, Michael Kaericher, a supply chain manager who is also an avid hiker and outdoors person, wanted to be able to help out, deciding to join the team about a year ago with his friend and has since enjoyed helping the community.
Assisting the Sheriff’s Department
One of eight similar SAR teams in Los Angeles County, the SCV team has been assisting the Sheriff’s Department with search and rescue operations since the group was formed back in 1957.
Headquartered at the SCV Sheriff’s Station, the team is comprised of reserve deputies and high-risk civilian volunteers, all of whom are highly trained to respond to various operations, whether it’s a vehicle over the side, lost or injured hiker, earthquake, missing person or rescue in difficult terrain.
The team is on call 24/7, ready to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice, and while the team primarily responds to incidents in the SCV, they also assist with mutual aid calls outside of the valley when called upon.
The SCV SAR team has already responded to more than 50 calls this year, surpassing last year’s total and more than quadrupling the total calls they responded to two years ago.
While members previously were required to be reserve deputies to join the team, which entailed six months of training at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Academy to become sworn peace officers, the team recently began allowing a limited number of civilian volunteers to join, which has helped to bolster their numbers as call volumes have increased.
It was this change that allowed 23-year SAR member Randy Baarstad the chance to join the SAR team in his local community.
“I just didn’t have the hours at my job where I could go to the academy,” Baarstad said, adding that he was therefore working with a nearby team that accepted civilians until recently. “It’s nice to be able to help the community you live in.”
Team members still go through extensive training and are required to become emergency medical technicians and get Mountain Rescue Association certified.
Each month, the team also holds training days, practicing various rescue operations across the SCV, like a recent training in which the team built a rope system on the waterfall at East Walker Ranch.
“We like to come back and train on areas that we’ve done previous rescues,” Buttitta said, noting that while the trail has been closed since the Sand Fire in 2016, many people still hike back there and get stuck after climbing the waterfall. “This is a perfect spot where if you look at the tree canopy, no helicopter can come in here, so it’s a great place to train, and we’ve had several rescues back here.”
For longtime SAR member Brad Lyon, it’s training and learning the new techniques and procedures where he’s found his passion.
Lyon joined the SAR team in 1982 while still in college, and since has become a board member and training officer.
“It wasn’t very long until I joined the training committee, and I just kind of picked up everything pretty quick because I loved it,” Lyon said.
Technological advancements, for example, have helped the command post team better coordinate and assist those in the field, as they are now able to not only ping the victim’s phone for GPS coordinates but also track the team, ensuring they’re on the right track.
Everything from the technology to the equipment has improved over the years, Lyon noted, making it stronger, more efficient and — most importantly — safer.
“In many cases, (team members) are risking harm to themselves by going out and looking for somebody,” Lyon added. “So, I want them to be the best trained they possibly can be, so we want to have very high-quality training on a professional level, and also be carrying the best equipment that’s available out there now.”
While the team used to be fully funded by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, the team now has to work to fundraise, often partnering with the SCV Sheriff’s Station Foundation in raising funds for equipment and supplies, which costs $4,000-$5,000 to outfit each new team member.
Though challenging at times, it’s each team member’s dedication that makes it worth it, Lyon said, noting that each member is special.
“They’re willing to give their time and their energy — and sometimes some of their money — towards something like this (that’s) truly directed to helping others that are in need, and they’re really special people because of that,” Lyon added.
For more information, visit scvrescue.com.