Beyond the Badge, Community Involvement

Correctional Officer Dustin Stegall volunteers to rescue others

Photos show Dustin Stegall in a burned out fire area and in the water helping save a man.
Correctional Officer Dustin Stegall volunteers for the Kern County Search and Rescue. He's assisted with Butte County's 2018 Camp Fire. He can also be found performing water rescues.

Helping families find closure is way to achieve work-life balance

By Lt. Joshua Farley
Wasco State Prison-Reception Center

When Correctional Officer Dustin Stegall isn’t fulfilling CDCR’s mission of maintaining public safety, he steps into the role of rescuer. For four years, Officer Stegall has volunteered for the Kern County Search and Rescue (SAR) team.

As a certified rescue swimmer/diver, he often finds himself on a boat helping navigate major rapids or searching for victims in the water.

“I usually jump off the side of the boat but also swim alongside of them when looking for victims,” he said.

About 90% of the time, water rescue operations turn into body recovery missions.

Stegall has also earned a Type 1 certification for hiking rescues. It’s a specialty in ground searching and tracking. Type 1 hikers carry enough gear to stay overnight, up to a few days in the field if needed, at any altitude or any terrain. They are also certified in wilderness first aid.

Most of the mountain rescue operations have involved injured or lost hikers, Stegall said. He’s also been needed in the desert where he’s helped find injured hikers, ATV enthusiasts and people trapped in abandoned mine shafts.

Stegall has been involved in dozens of water rescues, helping save 10 survivors and recovering six bodies.

Volunteer deployments to help fire-charred areas

Men listen during a briefing.
Officer Dustin Stegall, center right, takes part in the Camp Fire briefing in 2018.

During the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, he and the SAR team were deployed for eight days. He helped recover two bodies in the aftermath of the devastating blaze that destroyed the town of Paradise.

More recently, the SAR team responded to the Northern Complex fire in Butte County. They helped evacuate residents and assisted in recovery operations.

“My life and its problems are small compared to a parent standing hopelessly on the edge of the river screaming out for their 12-year-old daughter. I go out to bring closure to that family, that mother and father who can’t sleep until their son or daughter is found. I go out so others don’t have to. I go out because others will not go,” Stegall said. “Since I was young I’ve felt something tug on my heart to do more. I’ve always wanted to do something and be a part of something bigger than myself. Search and Rescue fulfills most of that desire.”

Other than some donations made to the Kern County Search the Rescue, the volunteers use their own funds. Stegall pays for his own diving equipment.

Stegall also steps up at the prison as a Peer Support member and EEO counselor.

A diver jumps into river rapids.
Dustin Stegall trains in rapids for water rescue.