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Unselfishly Coming to the Service of the Community

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Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 12:00 am

When the Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce holds its annual awards gala on Feb. 28, there will be four honorees: the Outstanding Citizen of the Year, the Outstanding Volunteer of the Year, the Outstanding Business of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Those honorees have been chosen and notified; over the next several weeks, we will honor them in this space.

The Outstanding Citizen of the Year for 2014 is a humble man, one who is a driving force behind the Central Mountain Section of the San Bernardino County Emergency Communications Service but who also prefers to stay in the background.

Tracy Lenocker, the Mountain Division chief, has had his amateur radio license since he was 14 years old. When he joined the Forest Service’s off-highway vehicle (OHV) program, he became active in amateur radio because communication out on the dirt trails was difficult, even with Forest Service radios.

At the time Lenocker convinced his wife, Jodi, and their son, Ryan, to get their licenses, too.

The Lenockers were part-time mountain residents until they made the mountain their home in 2007. Both Tracy and Jodi were active as lookouts in the fire towers.

It was Marilynn Jordan, the current Mountain Division battalion chief, who told Lenocker about the ECS program.

“I thought it sounded interesting,” Lenocker said, “and asked her if it was ever used. She said, ‘Oh, yes.’” Jordan, who was the Mountain Division captain at the time, went on to tell him the program is part of County Fire.

“It piqued my interest so I went to a couple of meetings,” Lenocker said, “and decided to join.”

Jordan was “holding the program together,” Lenocker said, noting there were only about 12 members then. Today there are 54.

That growth resulted from ECS members becoming more active in the community, being more visible. They help out at 16 events across the mountain every year—events like the Tour de Lake Arrowhead, the Fourth of July fireworks and the triathlon.

Working at those events helps the members hone their skills, as do the weekly nets into which the members call.

“We receive training from County Fire that’s exceptional,” Lenocker said. Members also take online FEMA courses.

That training covers a wide array of subjects—traffic control, first aid, CPR, weapons of mass destruction, bioterrorism—some of which may seem out of the purview of amateur radio operators.

“The reason we need the training isn’t because we’ll be directly involved,” Lenocker said. “We’re not part of law enforcement. But we will handle the communications and need to know how to pass along messages quickly and efficiently and how to document them. We need to understand the terminology and what they’re dealing with.”

Because of their training, the chief added, “County Fire really trusts us. We’re the second largest department in County Fire.”

The courses and the volunteer work at the various events help the ECS members be ready when they are activated, as they were last August when rainfall resulted in one death and mudslides up to 10 feet deep on Mt. Baldy.

At first, Lenocker said, he was told the Central Mountain Section would not be needed as they were too far away. But on that Saturday at about 9 p.m. he got a call from the top person saying he needed quality radio operators. Lenocker called out his troops and they showed up on site an hour before they were supposed to be there.

“Everything ran very smoothly,” Lenocker said. The logistics chief from one of the agencies told him how pleased he was with the way things went.

“I told him that’s because we practice,” Lenocker said.

The Central Mountain Section was not activated in the recent snow storm but members were on alert for 24 hours in case they were needed while stranded motorists were rescued from Highway 138. Several ECS members did stop and assist motorists who were having trouble. One couldn’t start his car as he had left his lights on. That ECS members gave him a jump and got him on his way.

“He called in to me and I logged him in and out,” Lenocker said.

He recalled a time when he came upon a motorcyclist down in the median strip on Highway 18. “Cars were whipping by on both sides,” Lenocker said. “It was one of our net nights and I was listening to members checking in. I broke in and said there was an emergency. One of the members on the net called it in to dispatch.”

At the monthly Central Mountain Section meetings—which take place at Fire Station 91 at 8 a.m. on first Saturdays—Lenocker or another member will often share information on new technology. At the January meeting, Lenocker talked about mesh networking, which creates a personal network so connected folks can talk with each other if the Internet goes down. The hardware, he told the ECS members, is inexpensive and the software is free.

A mesh network would be handy in case of a fire, Lenocker said. People on site could show EOC folks photos of what’s going on. In fact, when he was testing his equipment in Big Bear, Lenocker drove around with a web camera mounted on the rack of his Jeep. Everyone on the mesh could see what he saw.

It’s a way to connect and talk to each other wirelessly, Lenocker said.

The appeal of amateur radios is growing, he noted. “It always increases when there’s a disaster. People realize they would like to stay in communication with their family. Cell phones don’t always work.”

OTHER VOLUNTEER WORK

By profession Lenocker is a civil engineer; he currently consults with cities and NGOs.

“Working part time allows me to do the volunteer work I do,” he said. In addition to his work with ECS, he is the president of the W.A. Tucker Foundation, named for his biological father who was killed in WWII prior to Lenocker’s birth.

Since Southern California Edison can’t make donations to government agencies, SCE donated snowcats to the Tucker Foundation, which has them on permanent loan to the Running Springs Fire Department.

The foundation also supports Operation Provider, the Mountain’s Humane Society and worked with Hearts & Lives to donate radios to the schools in the Rim of the World Unified School District. Lenocker trains the principals each year on the radios’ use.

Lenocker’s passion for helping youth comes out when he talks about two programs: one a camp in Barton Flats for children diagnosed with diabetes and the other Kids on Public Lands, which brings disadvantaged children from Anaheim to the mountains to experience the forest and fresh air.

At the camp for diabetics, the children learn they are not strange, Lenocker said, that they are not the only ones with the disease. Last summer a former camper returned as an adult because she wanted to show the camp to her husband. “It was that important to her,” Lenocker said.

Being at that camp changed her life, as it was doing for a young man who told the woman, “Now I feel like I belong.”

They hold a family session for newly diagnosed children. “The parents are freaking out. The camp puts them with other parents in the same boat.”

Lenocker co-chairs the Kids on Public Lands program, which takes place in September. ECS members help with communications and members of OHV clubs drive the Jeeps in which they take the children out into the forest.

“The drivers love this,” Lenocker said, and will report back that the children ask who waters the trees and who feeds the animals.

OUTSTANDING CITIZEN OF THE YEAR

As for being named Outstanding Citizen of the Year—a person who, through his contributions, has bettered the community and its citizens—Lenocker said he was totally surprised and had no idea why he was chosen.

But he feels it is a great forum through which he can promote ECS and talk to people about safety and being prepared.

“I just enjoy doing the work,” he said. “I don’t need to be recognized. I like to be the silent person who makes things happen.”

He may have never met his biological father, but Lenocker has a definite connection to him. Years after getting his amateur radio operator’s license, he learned that his father had played a 14-year-old boy operating a ham radio in a short film, Radio Hams. The film can be seen on YouTube.

In it the narrator makes a statement that sums up the work of ECS today: “Whenever a calamity occurs, the ham operator courageously and unselfishly comes to the service of the community.”

Tickets for the Feb. 28 gala are available on the Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce website, www.LakeArrowheadChamber.com.

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