Mountain Views News, Sierra Madre edition

Sierra Madre Edition

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Inside this Week:

Community Calendar:
SM Calendar of Events
Sierra Madre Police Blotter

Sierra Madre:
Walking SM … The Social Side
… This and That

Shop Local:

Pasadena – Altadena:
Local Area News Briefs
Altadena Crime Blotter
Pet of the Week

Arcadia · Monrovia · Duarte:
Arcadia Police Blotter
Monrovia Police Blotter

Best Friends / The World:
Happy Tails
Christopher Nyerges
Out to Pastor
Katnip News!
SGV Humane Society

Food, Drink & More:
Chef Peter Dills
Table for Two
Looking Up

Education / Good Life:
Senior Happenings

F. Y. I. :

Section B:

Arts and More:
Jeff's Book Pics
All Things
Family Matters
The Missing Page
The Joy of Yoga

Opinion … Left/Right:
Carl Golden
John L. Micek
Michael Reagan
The Funnies

Legal Notices (1):

Legal Notices (2):

Legal Notices (3):

Legal Notices (4):

Legal Notices (5):

Jeff Brown
Deanne Davis
Peter Dills
Bob Eklund
Marc Garlett
Lori A. Harris
Katie Hopkins
Chris Leclerc
Christopher Nyerges
Rev. James Snyder
Keely Totten

Recent Issues:
Issue 31
Issue 30
Issue 29
Issue 28
Issue 27
Issue 26
Issue 25
Issue 24
Issue 23
Issue 22
Issue 21

MVNews Archive:  Page 1

MVNews this week:  Page 1



VOLUME 12 NO. 32


 “Each rescue is an impromptu engineering 
problem.” , says Susan McCreary as she shows me 
around the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue (SMSR) 
station. Susan is in charge of Public Education and 
Outreach with SMSR. She showcases the trucks, the 
160-pound dummy that the team takes out into the 
field to practice rescues with, and she also shows off 
her gear. Her pack is heavy. She tells me that this 
is only her summer gear, and that in the winter the 
team’s packs will be much heavier because there will 
be ice axes and crampons included. 

 I ask her about the history of the station and SMSR. 
A plaque on the front of the building explains that 
SMSR was able to buy the station in 1997 thanks to 
‘the generous donations from the citizens of the San 
Gabriel Valley and a major grant from the Webb-
Berger foundation’. Susan tells me that before SMSR 
had this station, they met in the basement of the 
old City Hall- what many of you know today as the 
Jailhouse Inn. She also tells me that back then, if a 
call came in, the first person to get it would call other 
members, who would then call other members, and 
so on until everyone knew. Now, since everyone has 
pagers or cell phones, the phone tree is no longer 

 Susan describes the founding of SMSR. The LaLone 
brothers were local hunters who were called out 
twice within a few months to search for a fellow 
hunter and later, a young boy. The brothers decided 
to put together a team in 1951. This team was the 
first Sierra Madre Search and Rescue. SMSR and 
Altadena Mountain Rescue Team were the first two 
Search and Rescue teams in all of California, and in 
1959, Altadena became a founding member of the 
Mountain Rescue Association (MRA). The founding 
teams met at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, 
Oregon. SMSR joined the MRA shortly thereafter. 

 In the 1960s-1970s, the team received international 
acclaim due to their many searches, some of which 
took place out of state, in the Adirondacks of New 
York, for example, and some which took place out 
of the country, often in Baja Mexico. Susan says, ‘We 
don’t do it as much anymore because there are more 
Mountain Rescue teams than there used to be.’

 Although they still do get called out to assist other 
areas at times, the SMSR is responsible for a swath of 
land that goes from Fish Canyon and the west edge 
of the San Gabriel River in Duarte to East Pasadena, 
at Hastings Canyon, just before Eaton Canyon. They 
also cover all the way up to Mt. Wilson’s Rincon 
Redbox Road. Other nearby teams include Montrose 
SR, Malibu SR, Altadena SR, and San Dimas SR. 
The team reliably shows up in numbers for searches 
in Yosemite, Sequoia Kings Canyon, Death Valley, 
Joshua Tree and many other parks and counties in 

 When a 911 call or a call to Sierra Madre Police 
Department comes in, dispatch notifies SMSR. All 
team members are EMTs and are qualified to do 
some emergency medical work, such as splinting 
broken bones and giving oxygen or aspirin, but for 
more serious injuries the paramedics are called in to 
assist. On rescues, SMSR is associated with the LA 
Sheriff’s’ Department (LASD) because the Sheriff’s 
department has responsibility for wilderness search 
and rescue. However, SMSR is a separate entity from 
the Sheriff’s Department. The team is classified as 
‘High Risk Civilian Volunteers’. They are not law 
enforcement, nor do they carry sidearms. SMSR 
does not receive any tax dollars or federal funding. 
They also do not charge for rescues or emergency 
help; every cent they have comes from donations.

 Susan recounts some recent rescues for me. Heat 
injuries and illness are common right now. Recently, 
the team rescued an overheated dog on the trail. 
She noted that it’s quite common to get calls up by 
Hermit Falls in Chantry Flats, because that area often 
attracts inexperienced hikers who are unfamiliar 
with the area. 

The team has seen many fatalities, back injuries, 
broken bones, and concussions resulting from cliff 
jumping up there. She also says that Mount Baldy is a 
common spot that the team is called to, to assist with 
searches. She tells me that there was a Thanksgiving 
where she was taking the turkey out of the oven as 
the call came in and she had to leave immediately to 

 She also describes a search that took place last year 
for Carl Foote. She grows quiet as she recounts this 
one, mentioning that this particular search was very 
hard on the team. But she also mentions that the 
community rallied, bringing SMSR members food 
and water while they searched for six days and over 
1000 hours. 

 I ask Susan what it takes to become a member of 
SMSR. She tells me that new recruits must be between 
ages 25-55 when they join. New members spend 
between $2-3,000 for the necessary equipment in the 
first year or so. Additionally, members must live no 
more than 20 minutes from the station, be able to 
leave work at a moment’s notice if a call comes in and 
be able to be away from work for 72 hours at a time 
on searches. If recruits meet all these requirements, 
they go through their probationary period. During 
this time, they are learning everything they might 
need to know for a search or a rescue. Probationary 
members are required to show up for at least 75% of 
call outs so that they can continue to learn, whereas 
full members must show up to at least 50%. After 
about a year and a half, probationary members sit 
for a written exam and then must pass a field test. 
This earns them their ‘blue patch’, their MRA shield, 
and they become full members. Next, they must 
take a semester’s worth of EMT training. No matter 
what job you do with SMSR, you must meet these 
requirements, as well as an annual fitness test. The 
time commitment is a minimum of 800 hours a year, 
more for a probationary member. 

 So, who are the people that make up this team? 
She describes a mix of people, for example, a 2nd 
grade teacher, a Cal Tech trained rocket scientist, a 
microbiologist, a small business owner, a healthcare 
administrator, a machinist, a few IT specialists, a few 
nurses, an engineer. Susan herself has been a nurse 
with City of Hope for 33 years and a member of 
SMSR for 15. She tells me that she and some other 
team members just got back from a 6-day vacation/ 
training on Mt. Rainier.

 Another member Susan mentions is Arnold Gaffey, 
who just retired after dedicating 45 years to the team. 
Arnold started with SMSR at the age of 23 and is very 
well-known across California as a search manager. 
Big, multi-day searches require many teams and a 
LOT of coordination. ‘Gaffey was a master of that. 
He taught search management to teams all over 
California, including National Park Rangers and 
Forest Rangers.’ He also designed software to help 
keep track of clues, tracks, and areas searched to 
make big searches run more efficiently. 

 SMSR is very involved in outreach all year long. 
They often show students and young children a video 
called ‘Hug a Tree’ which teaches them what to do if 
they get lost. The children also get whistle packs that 
come with a whistle, an emergency shelter bag, and 
instructions on what to do if they get lost and how 
to use the contents. Susan says that SMSR reaches 
out to local schools, scouting troops, clubs like the 
Rotary Club, Lions Club, and the Women’s Club, 
and also sets up booths at community events like the 
Wisteria Festival and the Art Fair. She mentions that 
the team has given talks to UCLA’s hiking club and 
the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club. PR booths 
at events usually contain displays with FAQs and 
information about how to stay safe, as well as how to 
volunteer. SMSR is always recruiting and hoping to 
get new members to join.

Eventually, the interview ends, and Susan walks me 
out. The quote that sticks with me the most is this, 
“I’m proud to be a part of this organization because 
everybody is dedicated to what they signed up for. 
They show up.” Rebecca Wright/MVNews

Mountain Views News 80 W Sierra Madre Blvd. No. 327 Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024 Office: 626.355.2737 Fax: 626.609.3285 Email: Website:

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Mountain Views News 80 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. #327 Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024 Office: 626.355.2737 Fax: 626.604.4548