03/27/2001

L.A. county sheriff's dept. Emergency Service Detail: Friends in high places

 By Susan Carpenter
The Los Angeles Times

(Los Angeles, CA) - For the drivers whose cars have plummeted over rocky cliffs, the hikers who have lost their way, the skiers who have schussed down the wrong side of a mountain--the one without the lift--they come to the rescue. The 18 members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Emergency Service Detail respond to more than 600 emergencies each year.

On call at eight stations throughout the county, they never know when they'll need to rappel into a crumbling ravine or dive into murky waters or dangle from a helicopter. A year of training--in paramedics, special weapons, underwater search and recovery, mountain rescue and helicopter systems--provides a broad base to work from. Still, it takes another two years as an apprentice before beginning ESD members are prepared to respond on their own.

That's presuming a position is even available. The average Emergency Service Detail member spends 12 years with the unit, says Deputy Dave Rathbun, the group's longest-standing member, with 30 years' experience. The job's appeal, he says, is the excitement. Unlike regular police work, which is "90% negative, on our job . . . being able to prevent a person from being further injured is really quite rewarding. It's a feel-good job."

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