Beyond the Pond: Search and Rescue

Published on April 29, 2024

Dominic Carone search and rescue
Sitting at the top of Crystal Crag in Mammoth, California (elevation 10,364 ft.), freezing alongside our sergeant/coordinator.

We all know that over time, life takes many turns — in school, relationships, family and careers, for example. Who we were when we were 10 and 18 years old are typically not the same people we grow into during our 30s, 50s and beyond.

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Ever since I was young and growing up in suburban Los Angeles County, I always had a garden and a love for plants, water and nature. This is why I am a landscaper by trade. As a kid, I also loved to hike, camp and be outdoors. I remember attending our local, small-town Christmas parade, where we would see the local scouts, bands and first responders. The Montrose Search and Rescue Team always stood out to me. They had the coolest trucks and always had someone hanging in a litter basket from a winch on the back of the truck.

In my late teens, I joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Explorer Program for a few years. I really enjoyed learning the skills of the firefighters, but at barely 120 pounds and 17 years old, I didn’t think I could be able-bodied enough to meet the demands of the job. (It was also at this time when I learned about camping trips with friends. Firefighting was put on hold — unfortunately never to be picked up again.)

Call of the Wild

Just another rappel to check an abandoned vehicle for any occupants.

Over the next 15 years, I continued to camp and really got into hiking and overnight backpack trips. To get away from the stresses of starting and maintaining a new business, I would explore our local Angeles National Forest with all its hiking trails, natural streams and beauty. On my weekend trips, I would often come across an injured hiker, car accident or someone who just didn’t look too good. I always wanted to help but never knew what to do. The only thing I could do at the time was offer comfort, call 911 and wait for first responders to arrive.

I started looking into local first aid classes and joined our local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Neither offered me what I wanted, as I wanted to be more involved. Around 2018, after searching online for local wilderness first aid classes, I found the Montrose Search & Rescue website. They offered an open invite to attend a training day with the team and a monthly team meeting. I attended the meeting and then the training, which I learned was for the team’s Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) accreditation for search and tracking.

After attending both the meeting and the training, and I was hooked! I attended each meeting and team training for the next four months until Covid-19 put an end to that. During the pandemic, the team halted all trainings, meetings and patrols and only responded to emergencies, which included lost or injured hikers, vehicles over the sides (driving off the road, often landing 200 to 800 feet down a canyon), body recoveries and medical emergencies. I had made a few friends (thanks, Matt & Will!), so I was able to stay in the loop. My curiosity grew.

Toward the end of 2020, restrictions eased, and patrol and training resumed. I attended as often as possible, trying to gain knowledge and experience while getting to know the team members. After my initial requirements, I had an interview with the team and was accepted to become a trainee.

Yes! This was so exciting for me. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it was something I wanted. The Search and Rescue Team is part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and standards were set high. I was ready.

Team training.

Making It Official

In the latter part of 2021, I became an official trainee, and class started in January 2022. Rob, my training partner, and I wanted to become full team members before the end of the year. We were focused and dedicated to doing just that. This only gave us nine months to complete the physically demanding, mentally challenging training process. We would have weekly trainings and at least two weekend patrol trainings a month.

With two active kids (club soccer and team gymnastics), too many pets and a demanding business, I knew that this was going to be tough. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was going to mean many 12-hour days and 7-day work weeks for the next nine months. As a trainee, we were required to have excellent attendance. We responded to over 70% of the team’s 130 callouts that year.

During the next nine months, Rob and I would learn over 150 specific locations, including mile markers, mountain tops, hiking trails and just random points of interest in the over 700,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest. We would learn essential skills like first aid, radio etiquette, how to respond to calls, technical rope rescue, rock climbing, repelling and ascending a rope.

Despite being in Southern California, we still get pretty cold winters higher in the mountains. Temperatures are often in the teens, with anywhere from a few inches to more than 10 feet of snow. This requires us to be “snow and ice trained.” This training was some of the most physically demanding work I’ve ever done over a three-day period in freezing temperatures, hiking 10 miles carrying a 50-pound pack with snowshoes or crampons and sleeping on the snow. (It’s some of the best sleep I’ve ever had!)

When Duty Calls – Search and Rescue

Team training included various methods of technical rope rescue.

We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year — even on Christmas. We are available to rescue lost and injured hikers and motorists and recover bodies.

The Angeles National Forest attracts a lot of motorists every year in classic cars, fast cars, motorcycles and, of course, the Instagram car clubs. This, unfortunately, also means there are a lot of accidents. One day while on patrol, we got a call on the radio for a motorcycle-versus-car crash. Luckily, we were only a few minutes away. We called in air support and headed to the scene Code 3 (lights and sirens).

Once we arrived on scene, the forest department was on scene with the patient. He was casually sitting about 20 feet over the side with his hands supported by the brush. Upon further inspection, I noticed the brush was actually preventing him from sliding several hundred feet down a cliff. Due to him being injured and losing consciousness, we pulled him up over the berm and placed him on the road.

As I was looking at him, I noticed his left femur was protruding through his skin and jeans. His left boot was missing, and his foot was shredded, with his entire left side mangled. As we were assessing him and trying to get his information, I saw his eyes roll back in his head and his pupils dilate. I thought the guy had just died in front of me. However, after a few seconds of trying to get his attention, he opened his eyes and said, “I’m here.” What a relief that was!

Our air support landed on the highway, and the two medics instantly gave him an IV with some feel-good medicine. We packaged him on a backboard and carried him off to the helicopter, which took him to the emergency room only 10 minutes away.

We rarely get updates from our patients, but we did with this guy. All three bones in his leg were broken in multiple spots. He had a destroyed left foot, broken wrists, a broken radius and ulna (bones in forearm), a broken shoulder and, worst of all, a shattered pelvis, causing him to bleed internally (hence the loss of consciousness). Luckily this guy survived and is alive and well, minus the lower portion of his left leg.

If we hadn’t been so close to the scene, this story would have had a different ending!

Personal Fulfillment

Doing this work allows me to give back to the community by assisting hikers, day-use families, motorists and concerned loved ones.

Becoming a full team member in winter 2022 was a great accomplishment. It is an honor to be part of the world-famous Montrose Search and Rescue Team. I’m looking forward to many more adventures with them.

Two things I have learned so far: first, life is short. Enjoy the day, because you never know what it has planned for you. Second, people tend to trash nature. Respect and care for nature, and it will care for you. Pack out what you pack in!

About the Author

Dominic Carone has been in the pond and landscape industry since 1999 when he founded So-Cal Ponds. He believes in a strong family bond, and while this company is his passion, his main focus will always be family. He believes his work is art and strives to create natural-appearing landscapes and water

Japanese Koi Kodama

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Pond: Search and Rescue”

  1. Great article Dom!
    We admire your dedication and commitment to search and rescue, but even more, we admire your work as a dad.
    Thanks for doing such fine work on all fronts!

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