With blue skies overhead, 20 members of the Madera County Sheriff Department’s Search & Rescue (SAR) team took a three-mile hike last Saturday at Minarets High School. What made the hike different than most leisurely strolls was the fact each person had a 45 pound backpack strapped to them, and they only had 45 minutes to complete the hike. Not an easy task.
Members of the volunteer team who completed the physical test (only one missed the 45 minute mark) now have the title “Type 1 Searcher.” The test used was the Forest Service Arduous Pack Test that all firefighters must pass. Now S & R team leaders, including Sheriff Jay Varney, are confident they have personnel they can count on for long missions in steep and difficult terrain.
The physical test is in addition to the training team members receive during the SAR Academy (16 Saturdays), including map and compass reading, survival skills, tracking, legal and ethical aspects of SAR, search techniques, helicopter safety, rope rescue, and cold weather camping. The next SAR Academy will be held in 2016, however applications will be accepted this fall.
Jeannine Koshear of Coarsegold has been on the team for six years, and trained for the test with her 45 pound backpack for a month leading up to Saturday.
“My thought after the first mile, was why didn’t I train harder,” Koshear said. “I feel fantastic that now I made it.”
Dave Ficklin, 64, of Madera, joined the team a year ago to give back to his community. He retired four years ago as a electric engineer at the Stanford University Accelerator in Palo Alto.
“I did a lot of walking in preparation for today - I knew I would finish, but I wasn‘t sure I would make it under the 45 minute time limit,” Ficklin said.
He and his wife were following the ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite by climbers Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell.
“They spoke of inspiring others to find their “Dawn Wall,” challenge,” Ficklin said. “I realized this three mile hike was my current “Dawn Wall,” and that I fulfilled my challenge by completing the course within the allotted time. It felt great to make it.”
It was no surprise that the first to complete the three-mile course was Augie Capachino, 61, who retired from the Chawankee School District after 31 years of service as a custodian and bus driver.
Capachino is an avid distance runner who for 13 straight years, finished in the top 10 in his age division in the Valley Runner of the Year series. He also served as a firefighter for the Madera County Fire Department in North Fork.
The test was coordinated by Michael Baird, the leader for SAR’s technical ropes team.
Varney said a lot of the important work of the Search & Rescue team goes unnoticed. Just the day before, members of SAR rescued a woman and her dog after the lady got her SUV stuck in the snow above Bass Lake, in an area near Beasore Road and Norris Creek. She requested help through her GPS system in her vehicle and SAR team members used an off road vehicle with tracks to reach her.
There are currently 70 members of the SAR team throughout the county.
“It’s exciting to see this many volunteers out here training to help the citizens of Madera County and visitors to the county when needed,” Varney said.