Fueled by personal tragedy, veteran lifeguard Niki Burgan trains a team of search and rescue dogs for different kinds of missions, rescuing swimmers from drowning and searching for missing people off the coast of Southern California.
In 2007, members of Burgan’s family were lost in a small-plane crash off the coast of Carlsbad. Her mother and sister’s bodies were found, but her step father was never recovered. Burgan became convinced that search-and-rescue dogs could have made the difference in the recovery of her stepfather’s body.
Burgan founded the SoCal H2O rescue team, the only one of its kind in the States. She earned search and-rescue certification through the National Association for Search and Rescue and uses a combination of land-based training on EasyTurf synthetic grass and ocean training to hone the skills of her furry heroes.
“Our mission is to increase public aquatic awareness through active patrols, rescue demonstrations and community outreach programs,” Burgan said.
An important part of the dog’s training occurs at the EasyTurf training grounds at the Burgan’s home. EasyTurf donated the turf after hearing Niki’s story and mission to help protect swimmers at Southern California beaches. Here the dogs learn essential skills to aid in life-saving and search and rescue missions.
“The H2O team had a unique need for a forgiving surface to conduct their rigorous training regimen. EasyTurf’s grass provides the dogs with a lush, impact absorbing surface, allowing them to train longer and harder without fear of injury,” said EasyTurf President David Hartman. “We’re proud to support such an important team of dogs and give them the ability to train safely and effectively in order to carry out their life-saving missions.”
All of the training, running, jumping, cutting and immediate stopping take a toll on the dogs much the same as athletes. Knees, ligaments, joints and bones absorb an incredible amount of impact. The Burgan’s understood the wear and tear their natural lawn put on the dogs and looked for an answer. Easily the most advanced synthetic grass product available, EasyTurf provides the ultimate training environment, combining unmatched durability with a cushioned, safe and clean, yet non-abrasive, surface.
“Since I’ve installed EasyTurf, the team has had faster recovery times from their training,” Burgan said. “We’ve seen a lot less limping from sore muscles and joints. The lush synthetic turf has also improved the health of the dogs’ paws – they’re in the best shape they’ve ever been in.”
The daily training also used to take a serious toll on the Burgan’s yard.
“It was a mess,” Burgan said. “We had brown spots, dead spots, exposed roots, holes and well-worn paths. EasyTurf completely transformed our training environment and our living environment. My children now have a year-round green lawn to play on instead of what we had.”
EasyTurf drastically improved the Burgan family’s quality of life. The synthetic turf requires little maintenance, no mowing or watering, stays green year round and cleaning up after the dogs is as easy as picking up the solid waste and rinsing off the urine. By eliminating dirt and mud from their yard, the K9 team doesn’t need to be cleaned after each training session.
The team also trains at the beach every morning using a mixture of visible targets, submerged targets, scent targets and live humans to create realistic scenarios for actual rescue and recovery missions.
Burgan has worked throughout California and on other missing-person searches since 2001, including those for Danielle van Dam and Amber Dubois in San Diego County.
When the team is not training or involved in rescues, they are often found in schools educating children on aquatic safety.
“It is our hope that by increasing awareness … and that by educating people that we now have another tool (the K9 Lifeguards) in our public safety tool belt,” Burgan said.”
For more information on the H2O SoCal Rescue Team, go to www.socalh2orescueteam.com. For more information on EasyTurf, go to www.EasyTurf.com.