When things go bad in the wild and you get stuck, an elite force of highly trained and well-paid rescue workers are deployed to find and rescue you. Unfortunately, the government can only afford about 4 of those guys, and depend on search and rescue volunteers to form the backbone of many rescue operations. Becoming a search and rescue, or SAR, volunteer can add meaning and adrenaline to your favorite outdoor activities.
Choose a Specialty
All search and rescue volunteers have a specialty which makes them more suited towards some operations. The most common—and probably easiest—position is a simple hiking or backpacking search and rescue volunteer. However, you can also volunteer as a search and rescue diver, 4×4 driver or helicopter pilot, among others.
Get in Shape
Don’t let the term volunteer fool you into thinking that anyone can join. Rescue coordinators and team leaders won’t send you hiking into the woods if you’re severely overweight or drunk. The basic motto of search and rescue is to help others out of bad situations, not to get stuck yourself. If you’ve been sitting on the couch eating Funyuns and watching reruns of Man vs. Wild for the last few months, best to hit the gym before you apply.
Certifications are a volunteers most valuable resource. Many SAR teams will offer additional training for free, but it helps to show up with a handful of skills. Basic classes in wilderness survival, navigation and first aid will go far but you should also consider certifications that will benefit your desired specialty. Think ropes courses if you might do any rock climbing or off-road driving if you might operate a 4×4.
Find a Group
Search and rescue groups are generally divided into state and county organizations. Unfortunately, because many operate independently it is sometimes hard to find a comprehensive list and decent contact information. Start with a web search for search and rescue volunteers in your county or state. If you have trouble, contact your local sheriff’s department and ask about volunteer abilities for people with your skill set.
Just because you are accepted into a search and rescue group doesn’t mean you are always a member. Most teams have regular training sessions and strict regulations on certification renewal. Stay in shape and continue to hone your skills. Search and rescue volunteers can’t rely on a normal schedule so you need to be prepared at all times.