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Devoted search and rescue teams give their all

May 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Imagine a job where you're on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's risky too. On any given day, you could be jumping out of a helicopter, rappelling down a mountain or putting cuffs on a suspect. On top of all that, you get paid just one dollar a year. So why would anyone do it? "I guess it's the adventure, the physical challenge," said Lynda Daniels of Montrose Search and Rescue. "Maybe we're all adrenaline junkies."

The Montrose Search and Rescue Team is one of eight search and rescue teams across L.A. County. In all, there are 110 highly trained, unpaid, reserve sheriff volunteers on call ready to respond to any type of wilderness emergency.

"The entire team is trained as emergency medical technicians, so any of us can function as first-on-scene medical," said Dr. John Rodarte, a member of the team.

"It's a long process and you have to be 110-percent dedicated," said team member Jason Johnson. "So it's non-stop training for over two years, two and a half years at least."

"We have everybody from an ER nurse, lawyer, teachers, construction workers, JPL engineers, banker," said Rodarte.

The Montrose Search and Rescue team has been saving lives since 1946.

"This guy was down in the canyon for 10 hours before somebody discovered him," said Fred Koegler.

Koegler has been on the team for 37 years. He's also the team's unofficial historian.

"Snow came down overnight and just buried them, two to three feet of snow," said Koegler. "We spent two days on this rescue and we finally found them alive."

It's dangerous work. The Montrose team lost a member back in 1969 when a dam overflowed in Big Tujunga Canyon.

"He slipped, fell on the upstream side and he was tied on his chest," said team member Dan Hensley. "Swept him under the tree and the line kept him from being able to get free of it."

Ninety-five percent of the team's duties take place within the Angeles National Forest.

"We can see things on these mountains we never saw before because they were all covered with trees," said Lynda Daniels.

Last year's Station Fire forever changed the forest they all know so well.

"I won't see it in my lifetime back the way it was," said team member Bruce Parker.

"To see it after the fire, like a moonscape. It was just devastated, brown, lifeless almost," said Rodarte.

It was the Montrose Search and Rescue Team that helped recover the bodies of two firefighters killed when their truck was overrun by flames, plunging 800 feet over a cliff.

"It was an all-night operation," said Koegler. "It was very moving at the end when the caskets came up draped in the American flag. It made you realize how dangerous this work is."

"Someone told me a long time ago, you've got to give back. I'm giving back the best I can," said Dan Hensley.

Hensley, 73, is the longest serving member of the Montrose team, with 800 rescues and 45 years and counting.

So what is it that compels these men and women to risk life and limb to help others?

"Yeah, I don't know," said team member Janet Henderson. "Good question. We do good for the community and the people and the area around us."

"It's not for the pay, definitely not," said team member Jason Johnson.

"I enjoy helping people, and you're in the outdoors and it's a great combination," said team member John Camphouse.

Those eight volunteer search and rescue teams are always looking for more volunteers.


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