When a Top-Notch All Volunteer Rescue Team Needs You, What Do You Do?

Rescue by Genario Gray

Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue team in a 2012 operation. [Photo by Genario Gray]

About 14 years ago, a vehicle crashed into the Eel River near Dean Creek in Southern Humboldt. Firefighters who arrived on scene found a car partially submerged and multiple injured people. The moans of the injured mixed with cries for help. “Firefighters were wading into the water to try and pull people out and they were using whatever ropes and equipment they had in the back of pickups to help the injured people up the bank,” remembers Diana Totten, a former firefighter who was at the scene. “There were several major injuries.”

As firefighters struggled in their heavy turnouts to save the victims, they in turn were almost injured. They didn’t have the equipment and the training to help in this situation, Totten said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How much danger do you put a volunteer firefighter in to try and rescue other people?’…That was when the thought of Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue began.”

For 13 years, that all volunteer organization has rescued people in the area. “They get 25 or 30 calls a year which involve a real high level of skill and equipment that firefighters don’t normally always carry,” explained Totten a spokesperson for the group. “The team is very dedicated it takes a lot of time and training.”

Genario Gray rescues three dogs this last December. [All photos provided by SHTR]

Redheaded Blackbelt has covered a few of their rescues. This last year, they’ve rescued dogs trapped by rising water in a vehicle in December. In November they helped rescue a family of lost hikers. In October, they recovered a seriously injured man who had fallen over a steep embankment in Redway. In July, they rescued a fall victim from north of Needle Rock.

One of their most dramatic rescues occurred in April 2015. A man running the Lost Coast Trail fell down a cliff and landed in the rocks near Miller Flat. He was badly injured.

Totten recalls,

He had multiple fractures including a broken back, fractured shoulder, a fractured femur, a fractured arm, multiple fractured ribs, a fractured ankle and a punctured lung. Locals rescued him from the incoming tide….Helicopters couldn’t get in because of the fog. A team [from Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue] had to pack him out in a Stokes litter. They walked for hours carrying him. It took 12 hours from the start of the rescue until we got him in a helicopter. There was no time to take a break because he could die if they didn’t get him to help. 

The victim, Totten said,  couldn’t believe that volunteers would dedicate that much energy and effort to saving him. “Those kind of calls…there is not anyone else to do them. Not only does the team do them but they do them with professionalism….A lot of communities don’t have groups like this. If you ever found yourself in a predicament, you would be glad to look up and see these folks.”

After carrying a critically injured victim for hours to get to a helicopter, SHTR team members hike back along the Lost Coast Trail in thick morning fog.

Totten explains that it takes a lot to train, supply and build a team. Crew members have to be able to trust that their mates will correctly tie the knots on the ropes that pull them up cliffs. “In tech rescue, you have to be 100% every time,” she explained. “There is not a lot of things that require you to be 100% but there is no margin of error for tech rescue.”

Crew members develop a deep trust for each other, she said. “How many times have you looked at someone and [said] if that knot is done wrong, I’ll die…but I trust them and I’m going? They’ve got to do that.”

The team is looking for more members. “We encourage other volunteer firefighters to join the team,” Totten said. “The team could always use more help but we only take firefighters.” Totten noted that there are already several women on the team besides herself but there is definitely room for more.

Totten tells us that on June 3rd, this crew is having a fundraiser at the Garberville town square from 12-8 p.m. “Tech rescue isn’t something you can nickle and dime,” she explained. “You need the best equipment.”

They are asking for the community’s help so that in turn they can be there to help the community. If you’d like to support them, she suggested, stop by, listen to some music, eat some BBQ, and thank a few heroes by donating a little cash.




  • Special people doing special things.thanks for caring and training so hard to save lives,YOU ROCK

  • You donate some money to them, that’s what you do. We are so lucky to have them, they could someday save yours or a loved ones life.

  • I’ve followed these guys for a while, and I’ve always wondered why they never get credited in the official press releases. I remember one incident with a rolled over big-rig, and another with a vehicle in the river. I guess if they are all on a Volunteer department already, that might be why.

  • Diana Totten, a “former” firefighter. That’s hilarious. Put some smoke in the air and see where you find her…
    Diana will be fighting fire and helping people when she is in her wheelchair. Diana just plain likes helping people, and it doesn’t hurt that she is an adrenalin junkie. I’ve often heard her say, “I don’t want you to have an emergency, but if you have one, I want to be there”.
    Join me in the park for their fundraiser June 3rd… And don’t forget the Redway Fire Barbeque May 28. The day after tomorrow.

  • See, now, this is more uplifting than stuff about pedophile gurus getting busted or drug labs exploding.

  • I’m more than impressed & proud as can be. This is beyond excellence.


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