Malibu SAR Sets new Rescue Record

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Members of the Malibu SAR team train for different rescue situations.

From the rock pools in Malibu Creek State Park, to the trails at Solstice Canyon and beyond, the Malibu Search and Rescue (Malibu SAR) team broke a new rescue record in 2015, responding to 132 calls in its 187 square miles of jurisdiction. 

The previous year’s rescue calls totaled 98.

“We’re obviously available for as many rescues as we can get, but we always hope for good results and ones where people make it back to their families,” Reserve Captain and Public Information Officer David Katz said. “We’re getting used in more and more different types of circumstances and I think that’s also one of the reasons why we had an increased number.”

The previous record was set four years ago, when Malibu SAR responded to 128 calls.

The volunteer-based organization was founded in 1977, comprised of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Reserve Deputy Sheriffs. Malibu SAR is a unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, works with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and also the Mountain Rescue Association. 

“We’re getting used in a lot of crossover law enforcement rescue-type circumstances, be it the barricaded suspect in Agoura Hills a couple weeks ago — we were called out to help evacuate residents in the area,” Katz said. “We also got a warrant service down at the bottom of Decker Canyon on a suspect. We’re just getting a variety of different types of search and rescue activities, and as a result it moves the numbers. Plus, it seems like when the economy is going better — more people are out and about, doing things.”

No two calls are ever the same.

Katz’s most memorable rescue of the year happened in early July when a jogger reported a vehicle over the side of the road in Latigo Canyon. A woman had careened off the canyon road and had been trapped inside the car for what appeared to be a few days.

“She was down there and nobody could hear her until a passerby heard her screaming,” Katz said. “That rescue was actually a joint operation between Los Angeles County Fire Operations, Malibu SAR and the Mountain Conservancy.” 

The rescuing teams were able to free the woman from her vehicle, located roughly 50 to 75 feet below the road. The woman suffered minor injuries and was airlifted to a local hospital.

Malibu SAR must be prepared for many difficult challenges, including recovery missions.

On Aug. 27, a man died after he drove his vehicle over the side of Malibu Canyon Road, plummeting more than 500 feet. The driver’s satellite radio system notified rescuers of the vehicle’s whereabouts, enabling the rescuers to locate the victim.

“That was really one of the first times we had that kind of technology assist us to locate a vehicle that went off the road,” Katz said.

Katz insists one of the most useful tools a person can have when out alone is a form of communication. “People are more apt to call for help when they have a cell phone, and we encourage them to do so,” Katz said. “We don’t charge for rescues. We don’t charge because we’re not paid. We really encourage people to do it because in situations where people believe they’re going to be charged, they don’t call and then they get themselves into a more precarious predicament.”

There are nearly 30 volunteer members of Malibu SAR, and while becoming a member is a difficult process, recruiting efforts are always in the works and Katz hopes to build the team throughout 2016.  

“Out of every 100 people that apply, we might get one or two people that actually get through the academy and get out to the team,” Katz said. “We’re busy trying to get people in because the gestation process is about one year from the time they first apply till they get in the academy. Then you’re looking at six months to get out of the academy and be a productive team member, which can take anywhere from two to five years. They have to get their own Emergency Medical Technician certification. And, it’s all on a volunteer basis.”

Training and certification to become one of Malibu’s most vital community assets takes time, but the results are worth it.

“They see us as a resource,” Katz said. “The vast majority of our calls result in very happy endings, with people who are found and are back to their families and they go back to their families.”