Neal Thornhill is a Reserve Deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, specializing in Search and Rescue. He works out of the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, which covers an area of 187 square miles all around the Santa Monica Mountains.
First Responders Children’s Foundation gave Deputy Thornhilll’s S&R unit a grant to purchase a very rugged, portable AED (defibrillator) to help them save lives.
Q: Like most Search and Rescue workers, you’re a volunteer. What’s your day job?
Deputy Thornhill: I own and operate an insurance investigations company. I joke because for my daytime job, I go look for people in the field to interview them, to talk to them. Right? And then when I’m working in my volunteer job, it’s all about looking for people too… so I can’t get away from that!
Q: What inspired you to get involved in this kind of work?
Deputy Thornhill: I’ve always been attracted to rescue work. I spent some time as a firefighter/paramedic here in LA, before I got into the insurance world, and as my business has grown I have the time to give back to my community. My passion is rescue work. It’s fun. It’s always interesting. And I see a direct result in the positive feedback we get from the community we serve.
Q: With Search & Rescue work, you are often dealing with folks in one of the worst moments of their lives. How do you deal with that?
Deputy Thornhill: We have such a dedicated and mature team, and when someone is experiencing their darkest moment, we are calm and collected and confident. We give that to them and it puts them at ease. We tell them they’re going to be fine, and we’re going to get them out of there, and it really changes their mental outlook. We have a group of forty or so volunteers… We have quite a few paramedics on our team, we have a doctor on our team, we have a couple of nurses on our team… We have a lot of medical knowledge so we can handle any basic situation.
Q: What was the most memorable call you went out on?
Deputy Thornhill: By far for me, the (Kobe Bryant) helicopter crash. It was life-changing to me. You can almost see the hill from here. We worked that event for over two days, taking care of everything. Our team put in quite a bit of hours and emotional focus to get that done. And when we get a lot of support, too. We have a chaplain who has been available to us.
Q: What was the most frightening call you’ve been out on?
Deputy Thornhill: We recently had an attack on one of our beaches–it wasn’t a rescue call that came out, it was an assault where somebody had been attacked with a machete. That beach became a hot zone, because we had the suspects still on the loose in the area. So, we got in there right away, and while the other deputies were taking care of the threat, we were able to treat this patient and get him all packaged.