Malibu Search and Rescue sponsors its first 5K/10K run

Malibu Search and Rescue. Photo courtesy.

For 45 years, the men and women volunteers of the Malibu Search and Rescue team have been helping to keep residents and visitors safe in Malibu’s rugged backyard. Now the team that averages 150 rescues a year is staging its first-ever family fun run, 5K, and 10K trail run. The event on Oct. 29 will feature activities for all ages.

Neal Thornhill is a Field Team Leader with MSAR and serves as the president of the non-profit corporation part of the team. The reserve deputy is helping plan the fun day and fundraiser. “We’re a unique organization because the LA County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for all search and rescue in LA County wilderness. There are seven teams responsible for that, Malibu being one of them. But we’re not necessarily funded by the department. The department provides our basic needs like our vehicles and radios, but we need to fundraise and provide nearly all of our own equipment. The idea of the fundraiser was to establish a reoccurring annual event where we can bring the community together outdoors because we work outdoors and doing something that we do, being on trails, and meet with the community and businesses while raising money for the team.”

Thornhill emphasized, “One of the nice things about giving to the MSAR team is that every dollar goes to equipment we use to save people’s lives. We have no overhead. We have no administration costs, so every dollar actually has a direct effect on somebody else, which is a pretty rare thing with non-profits.”

The team is currently outfitting a new vehicle. Additional funds are needed to properly equip the field with ropes, carabiners, rescue litters, and other specialty equipment required for rescues. “We use this money for all the hardware that we use. One of our new needs is rescue vests. We have to carry equipment with us into the field to effect rescues, and we need a unique way to carry that stuff.” Thornhill explained the equipment, weighing 50 pounds, cannot just be tossed into a backpack because “if we’re on the side of a cliff you can’t take your backpack off and rummage through it for the equipment you need. We have specialty vests that we can access all parts of wherever we are, and we don’t have to take it off. It’s one of our immediate needs.” The team is currently in the process of designing exactly how the vests will be constructed for maximum efficiency. Each one runs about $300. Of the 39 MSAR team members, roughly 25 to 30 vests will be needed for those who respond in the field. “Remember, we’re dual roles. Not only are we performing rescues, but we’re law enforcement. We have to carry our law enforcement gear in addition to our rescue gear. We’re pretty weighed down. We can figure out good ways to carry that equipment with these. Specialty vests really help us.”

MSAR is comprised of sworn LACO reserve deputies who go through the same academy training as full-time deputies; only the MSAR members do not get paid. Civilian volunteers who often have specialty experience as paramedics, nurses, and firefighters make up the rest of the team. 

“We are one of the busiest teams in the state. We’re in a unique area because we have 187 square miles of wilderness to cover the Santa Monica Mountains, and we are next door to a LACO population of 10 million people who have easy access to the outdoors.”

The team responds to cars over the side of canyon roads, lost and injured hikers, animal rescues, natural disasters and wildfire evacuations, and aircraft accidents in the mountains.

On Oct. 29, they won’t be taking the day off, but they hope to see the community at their inaugural trail races. “We have something for everyone,” Thornhill said. Expect pizza, a beer garden, bounce house, and postrace prizes, including a stay at the Four Seasons with massage and breakfast. Rescue trucks will be on display, and the team will be available for photos. The location at Paramount Ranch is “a fun place to be.” Thornhill assured that anyone on the trail runs “won’t get lost. We’ll find them. You come run in our backyard, and you won’t get lost,” he laughed.

To register for the races, visit

Any business that wants to become a sponsor can call (844)920-MSAR.

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Malibu Search and Rescue. Photo courtesy.