Urban Search and Rescue

Raul M. Rojas, County Purchasing Agent, Director, Public Works
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Rescue efforts after a mud slide.

The Marin County Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Team was founded in 1995 after members from the County’s Department of Public Works and Fire Department agreed to create a multi-disciplined US&R Team. The proposal presented by the Director of Public Works and the Fire Chief was the first of its kind anywhere - members of the Department of Public Works working side by side with members of the Fire Department during a disaster response, performing the same job, utilizing the unique skill sets required for both disciplines. The Marin County Board of Supervisors recognized the value of such a multi-discipline team and approved the concept.

As the Marin County US&R Team grew in complexity and capability, it was decided to invite other organizations throughout the County to join the team. With additional people, new ideas and perspectives, the team continued to increase its abilities. As time went on, more agencies were invited to participate. Currently, nearly every fire agency in the County of Marin is involved along with the Marin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team.

Golden Gardian at work

After evaluating the State of California’s US&R Typing system, members of the Marin County US&R Team’s command staff identified a large void in the response matrix. A US&R company is comprised of 3-6 people whereas a FEMA Task Force comprised of a minimum of 70 people and could take up to 72 hours to deploy. There was a tremendous void of response time and capability between a US&R company and a FEMA Task Force. The Marin County US&R Team proposed a new type of US&R Team, a “Regional Task Force” that can respond within 45 minutes and arrive in a quick and efficient manner. The State of California adopted this proposal and the Regional Task Force is now part of the California US&R system. In October of 2004, the Marin County US&R Team became the first Regional Task Force (RTF) in the State of California and received its identifier as “RTF-1”. Now, there are 12 RTFs in the state.

During the storms of 2006 a significant mudslide occurred in Mill Valley inundating a house and trapping one person. The Marin County US&R Team was tasked with finding and removing the individual from the mud slide. This marked the first time that a Regional Task Force was fully deployed. Following the August 24, 2014 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Napa, the Marin County US&R Team was requested to deploy to support the rescue efforts in the City of Napa. This was the first time a Regional Task Force was deployed to assist an agency outside of their own county.

The Marin County US&R Team has established itself as a leader throughout the state and nation in the US&R field.

Leadership Changes

Due to retirements and promotions, there have been many leadership changes within the Marin County US&R Team. Two of the key leaders, Farhad Mansourian and Ken Massucco, recently retired leaving very big shoes to fill. Director Mansourian’s role was filled by Bob Beaumont until his retirement and now Raul Rojas is filling the role as one of the “Sponsoring Agency Chiefs”. With Mark Brown’s promotion to Deputy Chief, he has moved from his position as Program Manager/Task Force Leader to fill Chief Massucco’s role as Sponsoring Agency Chief. We have maintained two Sponsoring Agency Chiefs, one each from Public Works and Fire, to continue the unique multi-discipline aspect of the team.

Mansourian and Massucco discussing strategy.

Randy Engler was chosen to become the new Program Manager/Task Force Leader. Randy’s tenure on the team, experience, dedication and work ethic made him an obvious choice for this very important position. As the Program Manager, Randy manages the day to day operational aspects of the team. Joining him as a Task Force Leader is Jeremey Pierce. With teams of this nature, it is important to have depth in the Task Force Leader position and Jeremey has shown the necessary leadership skills to be in this important position. Both Randy and Jeremey were Rescue Managers on the team. Chris Martinelli and Kai Pasquale were selected as their replacements. The Rescue Managers decide how to tackle the problems they are faced with and lead the four Rescue Squads during training and emergency deployments.

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Statewide Leadership/Committee Participation

The Marin County US&R Team has been an active member in the development and growth of the California US&R System since its creation in 1995; and that participation continues today.

Golden Gardian at work

FIRESCOPE was established by the California Fire Service in the mid-1970s. The goal of FIRESCOPE was to create common terminologies, incident organizations and standards throughout the fire service. As a part of FIRESCOPE, the US&R Specialist Group established and continues to develop the standards for the California US&R System. This includes how US&R teams are “typed”, what equipment they must carry, minimum capabilities and minimum training standards. Mark Brown currently fills the role of Chairperson of the US&R Specialist Group, a position he has held since 2009.

Randy Engler and Jeremey Pierce are both members of the California Regional Task Force Working Group. This group helps develop training curriculum specific to Regional Task Forces (RTF), organize joint training events and supports the US&R Specialist Group when requested in the development of training standards for the US&R system.

Canine rescue unit working on a mudslide rescue.

The California Office of Emergency Services has a standing committee that develops the standards for swiftwater and flood search and rescue. This committee is very similar to the US&R Specialists Group and is occasionally turned into an ad-hoc working group for FIRESCOPE. Kai Pasquale is an active member in this committee and has played a key role in getting Marin County US&R Team members opportunities to participate in important training courses.

US&R teams rely heavily on canines in the search for lost and trapped victims. The Marin County US&R Team currently has two canine teams (one handler and one canine per each team). Jim Boggeri, one of the founding members of the Marin County US&R Team, volunteered to become a canine handler and has excelled in this role. Jim is also a member of California Task Force 4, a FEMA US&R Task Force based out of Oakland. This has allowed Jim to create an extensive network of canine handlers and establish key relationships throughout not just the state, but the entire nation. Currently, Jim is the Vice Chair of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and leads the San Francisco Bay Area Canine Training Group.

US&R Team Configuration

The Marin County US&R Team is made up of several different components with defined specialties. Depending on the needs and complexity of the incident, these specialized components may work separately or seamlessly together during incidents to address search and rescue efforts and to mitigate incidents in a safe and efficient way.

Rescuer using a tool to lift a heavy concrete slab.

The first component to deploy on an incident is the search team. The search team is made up of Structural Specialists, Canine Teams and Technical search specialists (TSS). Structural Specialists are engineers and evaluate buildings for structural integrity and make shoring recommendations. The Canine Teams conduct a comprehensive search of collapse areas and are capable of locating potential survivors who may be buried under tons of debris. Technical Search Specialists utilize grid systems and hi-tech equipment such as infra-red cameras and listening devices to help pin point survivor locations and direct rescue teams where to work in a collapse.

The Rescue Team works closely with and behind the Search Team. Common tasks for the Rescue Team are shoring, both above and below grade, breaching concrete and steel reinforced masonry to provide entry and search access and technical rope evolutions involving lifting heavy objects and raising and lowering patients. Rescue Team members are also responsible for patient packaging and extrication. In order to accomplish this mission, rescue team members utilize numerous types of heavy construction equipment such as jackhammers, concrete cutting saws, core drills and torches for cutting steel. Pneumatic and hydraulic jacks are used with heavy timber to construct shoring to stabilize buildings and below grade collapses. The rescue team tools and equipment are transported in three rescue vehicles. Two of these vehicles are equipped with eighteen thousand pound boom cranes which can be used for raising and lowering heavy objects and high point anchors for technical rope evolutions. The third rescue vehicle is equipped with an air compressor for refilling self-contained breathing apparatus air bottles and an elevated light to provide scene lighting during twenty four hour operations. Additionally a tractor trailer is equipped with a mobile cutting station, pneumatic and hydraulic shores and a lumber cache.

When victims become trapped during disasters, they quite often suffer traumatic injuries. The Medical Team is staffed by highly trained, very experienced US&R Paramedics. Medical Team Members are capable of providing lifesaving care for illnesses and injuries ranging from sprains, strains and broken bones to major bleeding and crush syndrome. Medical Team Members will provide care from patient contact through packaging and extrication and until care can be transferred to a qualified transport unit.

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Marin County Water Rescue Team

Water rescue during the San Anselmo flood.

The Marin County Water Rescue Team is another specialized component that falls under the Marin County US&R Team umbrella. Since the initiation of the team, it has gone through several leadership changes, but team members have sustained the same dedication to maintaining a high level of training and operational readiness. Like the US&R team, the Water Rescue Team is a multi-agency team and maintains 24 members.

The Water Rescue Team’s first deployment was in February of 1998 for the Power incident in Ignacio. The team has been used numerous times during flooding in Main County, most notably during the 2005 flooding where it is credited with approximately 15 rescues and 30 evacuations.

Rescue efforts after Hurricane Gustave in Lousiana.

In June of 2008, the Marin County Water Rescue Team having achieved certification as a Type I Water Rescue Team was designated as a California Office of Emergency Services Water Rescue Team and given the designation of OES Team 11. This designation led to the team’s first out of state deployment of California water rescue resources when eight OES teams, including Marin’s Team 11, were deployed to Louisiana for Hurricane Gustave. During that deployment, Team 11 spent ten days providing assistance from Baton Rouge to Alexandria before being reassigned to Texas for Hurricane Gustave. The team remained in Texas for another ten days working with the National Guard and Texas Task Force 1 providing search and rescue assistance in and around Galveston and Bolivar Island.

Training and Events

Throughout the year, the Marin County US&R team maintains a rigorous training schedule. The full team trains on a monthly basis from November to May. In addition to regularly scheduled trainings, the US&R Team and the Water Rescue Team have traveled outside the county to take advantage of opportunities to work and train with other rescue teams. The US&R Team has trained at Treasure Island in partnership with the San Francisco Fire Department and has traveled to Eureka to participate in a regional tsunami drill with The Humboldt Bay Fire Protection District. Both teams also participate in the annual Urban Shield training and competition. Urban Shield is an international, multi-disciplinary training and competition hosted by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. It involves Law Enforcement, Technical Rescue, Water Rescue and Hazardous Materials Teams. In addition to competing in Urban Shield, the US&R Team has provided members to fulfill overhead positions such as Branch Director, Evaluator, Safety Officer and Site Captain. The Marin County US&R Team is very proud of its participation in Urban Shield and placed third in 2011 and second in 2013 during the competition.