The following article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News on Wednesday, October 21, 1992. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Volunteer team is dedicated to helping Valley neighbors
OJAI VALLEY NEWS
Since the 1950’s, Upper Ojai rancher Carl Hofmeister and a group of Valley volunteers have worked as partners with the Sheriff’s Department in an important capacity — as a trained search and rescue team that regularly finds lost hikers, saves victims of hard to reach accidents, and plucks drowning or stranded people from raging rivers or flood waters.
Hofmeister, a man of few, but well chosen, words only smiles and shakes his head when you ask him how long he’s been doing this kind of thing. Hofmeister organized the group “many years ago,” even before the Sheriff’s Department became involved, to help his fellow Valley residents. The Valley was less populated and more isolated at that time.
“If someone gets hurt, you can’t run off and leave them, you have to help them. It gets in your blood,” Hofmeister, the Captain of the Upper Ojai Search and Rescue team said.
Today the team is officially organized through the Sheriff’s Department, who supplies them with rescue equipment, including two trucks kept at Hofmeister’s Upper Ojai ranch, and monthly training.
The 18-member team is called in by the Sheriff’s Department when special rescue skills are required. Some examples of their work include being called if a car is over the side of a mountain road, if an organized search is required to find a lost or injured hiker, if a victim or body must be recovered and transported out of a remote location, either by helicopter or overland, or if a plane wreck must be located.
The Upper Ojai team is one of four in the county. Other squads include the Fillmore, East Valley and Dive teams. The Upper Ojai team is traditionally the busiest, with the Los Padres mountains close by. Hofmeister says the team can get called up as often as two or three times each month. But in slower times, for instance during the summer, calls can be fewer and further between.
Members’ training includes CPR and first aid. Some of the members, who come from all walks of life including ranchers, optometrists, attorneys, and county parks employees, are trained as emergency medical technicians.
But they all receive special training — from how to tie a proper knot to rigging pulley systems to lift someone out of a tight situation.
Drew Mashburn has been on the team for just over a year, and has been impressed with how much there is to learn. He says he’s just now getting more comfortable with his training and skills.
Mashburn said the team’s most common rescue results from people just not being prepared when they go out into the wilderness.
“Many times people bring these things on themselves. They don’t let people know where they are going, and they don’t wear proper clothing and get caught in inclement weather,” Mashburn said. “Even in Ojai in August, you should bring a windbreaker when you go hiking — you never know when you could fall and break a leg and get stuck overnight in bad weather.”
Many people don’t even realize the team exists, or that it’s a strictly volunteer enterprise, Mashburn said. But the team is now seeking community support so they can make an important capital purchase — beepers to notify members when they need to assemble for an emergency response.
“We are trying to upgrade our unit, and one of our biggest problems is slow response time,” Jim Wright, a 23-year veteran of the team said.
“When we have an emergency, the Sheriff’s department calls Carl, and then he goes through the phone list and calls everyone else. Than can take 20 or 30 minutes, but if we had pagers that went off we could respond immediately,” Wright said.
The pagers have been priced at about $2,500. And to help raise the funds in these days of tight county budgets, the Search and Rescue Team is hosting a benefit barbeque at the Upper Ojai’s Summit School this Saturday.
The $12 donation gets you top-sirloin steak with a soda and all the trimmings. Children under 12 will be served hot dogs and hamburgers free of charge.
For tickets and information call 646-2496 or 525-7943.