Volunteers give their all to search and rescue

ABC7 salutes Contra Costa County Search and Rescue
January 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Contra Costa County has one of the biggest and best search and rescue teams in the Bay Area, and it's made up entirely of volunteers. While the group is based in the Bay Area, it has touched lives across the state.

When a diabetic teenager went missing in Alameda County last month, the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue team came to help. They were the first to aid the injured girl when a hiker found her collapsed on a trail.

In Butte County, when the Dominguez family failed to return from a Christmas tree hunt, Contra Costa County Search and Rescue sent highly skilled, rough terrain team members to help look for them.

They seem to be everywhere -- at the Nina Reiser case in Oakland, the Horowitz murder in Lafayette and when Laci Peterson went missing in Modesto, the team spent 1,800 hours looking for her. The bill to Modesto for all of that -- zero dollars.

All 225 of them are volunteers.

"At the drop of a hat they'll come out and help you, me or anyone else in the community, on their time. Where most people would just roll over in bed at two o'clock in the morning when the phone rings, these people actually answer the call and come out and help us," says Lt. Eric Christensen.

Lt. Christensen oversees the volunteers. He says they're well trained, to state-mandated standards. Though there's no salary, the rewards are great.

"For me, once I have that volunteer find that first person, I own them forever because now they've felt that adrenaline rush -- 'I've won the lottery' -- and now they're going to play again and they'll come back to do that," says Lt. Christensen.

"It's true. It's really true. You make a couple of finds and it's like, I'm going to do this forever," says volunteer Eloise Anderson.

Eloise Anderson has been doing it for 16 years. She and all the members with search dogs pay for all costs associated with the animals, including training. Anderson's dog, Trimble, followed Laci Peterson's scent to the end of the Berkeley Marina boat ramp pier. Laci's body was found washed up not far from there. Anderson ended up testifying in Scott's trial.

"It made me more aware of all the little steps that I take when I approach a search because I never know if a search could go criminal on us. This may be a missing person to start, and then it may turn criminal," says Anderson.

Gerald Fay is on the equestrian team. He learned to ride and bought a horse after retiring from Chevron.

"I talked my wife into letting me buy a horse and I told her it would be inexpensive and it really wans't a lie, it just turned out to be a lie," says Fay.

There's only one prerequisite.

"You don't need any background. All you need is the enthusiasm and the will to do well," says volunteer R. Kovar.

"I first ran into somebody who was recruiting for search and rescue outside of Trader Joe's. They had a table set up and I see all these pictures of people and they look like me and I said, 'you're not really seriously looking for females who are my age are you?' And the guy said, 'yeah, yeah, we really are!'" says volunteer Judi Apfel.

"Although we don't get paid monetarily, we get overpaid with the satisfaction of being able to help people," says volunteer Barbara Becerra.

And so for all their selfless assistance to all of us in the Bay Area, ABC7 salutes all of the Contra Costa County Search and Rescue volunteers.

If you know someone we should salute, email us here.