For other uses, see Search and rescue (disambiguation).
Search and rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger. The general field of search and rescue includes many specialty sub-fields, typically determined by the type of terrain the search is conducted over. These include mountain rescue; ground search and rescue, including the use of search and rescue dogs; urban search and rescue in cities; combat search and rescue on the battlefield and air-sea rescue over water.
International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) is a UN organization that promotes the exchange of information between national urban search and rescue organizations. The duty to render assistance is covered by Article 98 of the UNCLOS.
There are many different definitions of search and rescue, depending on the agency involved.
- Canadian Forces: "Search and Rescue comprises the search for, and provision of aid to, persons, ships or other craft which are, or are feared to be, in distress or imminent danger."
- United States Coast Guard: "The use of available resources to assist persons or property in potential or actual distress."
- United States Defense Department: A search is "an operation normally coordinated by a Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) or rescue sub-center, using available personnel and facilities to locate persons in distress" and rescue is "an operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety."
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One of the world's earliest well-documented SAR efforts ensued following the 1656 wreck of the Dutch merchant ship Vergulde Draeck off the west coast of Australia. Survivors sought help, and in response three separate SAR missions were conducted, without success.
On 29 November 1945, a Sikorsky R-5 performed the first civilian helicopter rescue operation in history, with Sikorsky's chief pilot Dmitry "Jimmy" Viner in the cockpit, using an experimental hoist developed jointly by Sikorsky and Breeze. All 5 crew members of an oil barge, which had run aground on Penfield Reef, were saved before the barge sank.
In 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 with 269 occupants was shot down by a Soviet aircraft near Sakhalin. The Soviets sent SAR helicopters and boats to Soviet waters, while a search and rescue operation was initiated by U.S., South Korean, and Japanese ships and aircraft in international waters, but no survivors were found.
In July 2009, Air France Flight 447 was lost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. An international SAR effort was launched, to no avail. A third effort nearly two years later discovered the crash site and recovered the black boxes.
In early 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed under mysterious circumstances. Many nations contributed to the initial SAR effort, which was fruitless. In June 2014, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau commissioned the MV Fugro Equator to lead a three-month survey of the ocean bed, for which it had budgeted $60mn; at the same time, Malaysia announced it had spent $9.3mn to date on fuel and food in its own effort. The search for Flight 370 has become the largest SAR so far with the largest budget.
Types of search and rescue
Main article: Mountain rescue
Mountain rescue relates to search and rescue operations specifically in rugged and mountainous terrain.
Ground search and rescue
Ground search and rescue is the search for persons who are lost or in distress on land or inland waterways. Traditionally associated with wilderness zones, ground search and rescue services are increasingly required in urban and suburban areas to locate persons with Alzheimer's disease, autism, dementia, or other conditions that lead to wandering behaviour. Ground search and rescue missions that occur in urban areas should not be confused with "urban search and rescue", which in many jurisdictions refers to the location and extraction of people from collapsed buildings or other entrapments.
Some ground search teams also employ search and rescue dogs.
Urban search and rescue
Main article: Urban search and rescue
Urban search and rescue (US&R or USAR), also referred to as Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR), is the location and rescue of persons from collapsed buildings or other urban and industrial entrapments. Due to the specialized nature of the work, most teams are multi-disciplinary and include personnel from police, fire and emergency medical services. Unlike traditional ground search and rescue workers, most US&R responders also have basic training in structural collapse and the dangers associated with live electrical wires, broken natural gas lines and other hazards. While earthquakes have traditionally been the cause of US&R operations, terrorist attacks and extreme weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes have also resulted in the deployment of these resources.
Combat search and rescue
Main article: Combat search and rescue
Combat search and rescue (CSAR) is search and rescue operations that are carried out during war that are within or near combat zones.
Main article: Air-sea rescue
Air-sea rescue (ASR) refers to the combined use of aircraft (such as flying boats, floatplanes, amphibious helicopters and non-amphibious helicopters equipped with hoists) and surface vessels, to search for and recover survivors of aircraft downed at sea as well as sailors and passengers of sea vessels in distress.
International divisions of search and rescue responsibility
The Geneva Convention on the High Seas, aka UNCLOS I, is an international treaty created in 1958 to codify the rules of international law relating to the high seas, otherwise known as international waters, and is one of four treaties created at the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. This treaty contains the definition of high seas, at Article 1.
International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) is a UN organization that promotes the exchange of information between national urban search and rescue organizations.
International waters are divided by the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee into 13 regions as an addendum to the SOLAS convention; these regions were subdivided by various later conventions. The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue was signed in 1979, entered into force in July 1985, and governs SAR operations to present day. In the Arctic, SAR responsibilities are since May 2011 governed by the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement.
The duty to render assistance is covered by Article 98 of the UNCLOS:
Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:
- to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;
- to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him;
- after a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
A ship should not be subject to undue delay, financial burden or other related difficulties after assisting persons at sea; therefore coastal States should relieve the ship as soon as practicable.
International casualty inquiries
The Load Lines Convention requires the investigation of casualties, and, under SOLAS regulation I/21 and MARPOL articles 8 and 12, each Administration undertakes, when it judges that such an investigation may assist in determining what changes in the present regulations might be desirable:
- to conduct an investigation into any casualty occurring to ships under its flag subject to those conventions, and
- to supply the Organization with pertinent information concerning the findings of such investigations.
Under Article 94 of the UNCLOS, paragraph 7 on Duties of one flag state with respect to another, reads as follows:
Each State shall cause an inquiry to be held by or before a suitably qualified person or persons into every marine casualty or incident of navigation on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury to nationals of another State or serious damage to ships or installations of another State or to the marine environment. The flag State and the other State shall co-operate in the conduct of any inquiry held by that other State into any such marine casualty or incident of navigation.
International Maritime Organization (IMO) Resolution MSC.255(84), of 16 May 2008, adopts the Code of the International Standards and Recommended Practices for a Safety Investigation into a Marine Casualty or Marine Incident. It is also known as the Casualty Investigation Code. It is meant to govern collaborative investigations into very serious casualties which are defined at paragraph 2.22 as "a marine casualty involving the total loss of the ship or a death or severe damage to the environment".
SAR by nation
The Australian search and rescue service is provided by AusSAR, which is part of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). AusSAR operates a 24-hour Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Canberra and is responsible for the national coordination of both maritime and aviation search and rescue. AusSAR is also responsible for the management and operation of the Australian ground segment of the Cospas-Sarsat distress beacon detection system. AusSAR's jurisdiction spans Australia and as well as covering 52.8 million square kilometres of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans constituting about 12% of the Earth's surface.
AusSAR's RCC is staffed by SAR specialists who have a naval, merchant marine, air force, civil aviation or police service background. The RCC also coordinates medical evacuations, broadcasts maritime safety information and operates the Australian Ship Reporting System (AUSREP). In coordinating search and rescue missions, AusSAR will call on assistance from organisations as appropriate, such as the Defence forces, Border Protection Command, trained aviation organisations (Civil SAR Units), emergency medical helicopters, state Police services and trained Air Observers from the State Emergency Service. There are also other organisations, such as the non-profit Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service that is based at a number of sites around Australia and contracted by various authorities to deliver search and rescue services.
State Police in many states operate state-based search and rescue squads, such as the Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad, which provides specialist expertise, advice and practical assistance in land search and rescue on most terrain including snow and vertical cliff search and rescue. There are also state-based volunteer search and rescue groups such as the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad in New South Wales and Bush Search and Rescue Victoria in Victoria. These state-based groups draw searchers from bushwalking, mountaineering and specialist rescue clubs within their State. A few groups respond on horseback as mounted search and rescue. The State Emergency Service is a collection of volunteer-based emergency organisations established in each state or territory which are responsible for many rescue efforts in urban and rural areas and in any rescue that results from flood or storm activity. In rural areas the SES conducts most bush search, vertical and road traffic rescues. In urban areas they assist the police and fire services with USAR.
Search and rescue operations in Azerbaijan are managed by the Ministry of Emergency Situations onshore in cooperation with the State Civil Aviation Administration in air and the State Maritime Administration offshore.
Search and rescue duties along the Belgian part of the North Sea are executed by the Belgian Air Component. From its Koksijde Air Base it operates 5 Westland Sea King Mk.48 helicopters.
Search and rescue duties in Brazil are the responsibility of the Salvarmar Brasil (MRCC Brazil), of the Brazilian Navy and Divisão de Busca e Salvamento (D-SAR) (English: Search and Rescue Division), of the Brazilian Air Force.
See also: Canadian Forces Search and Rescue
Search and rescue duties in Canada are the responsibility of the Canadian Forces and Canadian Coast Guard in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments and private organizations. The Department of National Defence (DND) has overall responsibility for the coordinated search and rescue system. SAR operations are organized by Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC). The JRCC are manned 24 hours a day by SAR Co-ordinators from the Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Forces. Authority for the provision of maritime SAR is assigned to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans by the Canada Shipping Act and the Canada Oceans Act. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other police forces also coordinate ground search and rescue (GSAR) operations, often using volunteer GSAR teams operating in specific districts under provincial coordinating bodies.
The Canada Shipping Act, most recently passed in 2001, is the framework document that funds international SAR activities.
The Canadian Forces have five assigned SAR squadrons:
- 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, CFB Gander, CH-149 Cormorant
- 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron, CFB Greenwood, CH-149 Cormorant & CC-130 Hercules
- 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron, CFB Trenton, CH-146 Griffon & CC-130 Hercules
- 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, CFB Winnipeg, CC-130 Hercules
- 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, CFB Comox, CH-149 Cormorant & CC-115 Buffalo
Plus three Combat Support Squadrons with SAR roles:
Some municipalities and provinces have their own SAR units:
There are also volunteer non-profit associations that conduct SAR in Canada:
- Canada Task Force 2, Alberta
- Civil Air Search and Rescue Association
- ERT Search and Rescue
- Grande Prairie Technical Search and Rescue Association, Alberta
- Halifax Regional Search and Rescue - Nova Scotia
- North Shore Rescue, British Columbia.
- Pincher Creek Search and Rescue, Alberta
- Québec Secours, Québec.
- River Valley Ground Search and Rescue, New Brunswick
- Roberts Bank Lifeboat - Delta, BC
- Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM SAR)
- Sauvetage Bénévole Outaouais - Ottawa Volunteer Search and Rescue - Ottawa, ON and Gatineau, QC
- Search and Rescue Manitoba (SARMAN), Manitoba
- Vancouver Urban Search and Rescue (Canadian Task Force One), British Columbia
- York Sunbury Search & Rescue - New Brunswick
In Croatia the SAR Service is part of the Croatian Navy and the Croatian Coast Guard with their headquarter in Rijeka.
The Cyprus Republic Search and Rescue (SAR) system is organized by the Cyprus Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC Larnaca).
The JRCC (Greek: Κέντρο Συντονισμού Έρευνας και Διάσωσης) is an independent agency of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Cyprus that started its operations on a 24h basis on 7 August 1995 as a unit of the Cyprus Air Force Command.
On 1 March 2002, the JRCC took full responsibility for investigating, organizing, coordinating and executing every SAR incident-operation in the Republic of Cyprus Search & Rescue Region (SRR). JRCC Larnaca operated as a military unit until 26 July 2010, when JRCC was transformed to an independent agency under the Ministry of Defence with the Minister being responsible for its operational aspects. Logistic and technical support is the responsibility of the Ministry of Communications & Works. Its primary mission is to organize the Cyprus Republic Search And Rescue system, to co-ordinate, control and direct SAR operations in its area of responsibility (which is identical to the Nicosia FIR), in order to find and rescue people whose lives are at risk, as a result of an air or naval accident, in the least possible time. This is achieved by coordinating all the different agencies involved such as the Cyprus Police Aviation Unit, the Cyprus Port and Naval Police, the Cyprus National GuardNaval Command, the Cyprus National GuardAir Force Command, the Cyprus Civil Defence and other secondary units.
The JRCC reports directly to the operational control of the Ministry of Defence and it is staffed by qualified personnel of the Cyprus National Guard, mainly from the branches of the Navy and the Air Force.
Search and Rescue operators in Denmark are primarily: Danish air force Squadron 722, Danish navy air squadron, naval home guard and the Danish Maritime Safety Administration, coordinated by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, operated by the navy and air force in the Danish Naval Commands facilities near Aarhus. Internationally the Danish works mainly with Germany, Norway and Sweden. With the two latter, the annual exercises Baltic SAREX and Scan-SAR are conducted.
SAR services in Denmark started in 1957 with seven Sikorsky S-55s. Their piston engines produced only 550 hp (410 kW) and they had limited fuel capacity, so their operational range was short. To increase the operational area, Pembroke twin-engined fixed-wing aircraft were employed for search. These aircraft would localize the distressed person(s) and the S-55s would then rescue them. The SAR service was started for respond to fighter-plane crashes as 79 aircraft crashed, with 62 dead, in the period 1950-1955., but civilian SAR duties are also conducted.
In 1962 eight ship-based Aérospatiale Alouette IIIs were received. These were primarily meant for the ships patrolling the North Atlantic, but also supported the S-55s. In 1964 - 1965 the seven S-55s were replaced with eight Sikorsky S-61A helicopters. This helicopter was originally designed for anti-submarine warfare, but the Danish variant had the heavy dipping sonar equipment removed and extra fuel tanks added, giving the helicopters longer range. In 1977 radar was installed and in 1990 FLIR was added. Further avionics and navigation systems, including GPS, have also been added over time.
In 1977 the naval air squadron was re-established as an independent squadron in the navy and had their Alouette IIIs replaced with Westland Lynx helicopters. Their primary operational area was still the North Atlantic, but they continued their support role, although this was reduced with the introduction of the S-61s. In 2006, the first of the S-61s was replaced by one of 14 new AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin helicopters.
In 2007 the Danish Defence held a public display in Horsens, to raise awareness about rescue services and maritime safety. Maritime SAR is important because Denmark has a relative long coast line to its land mass.
In 2008 the SAR forces in Denmark were equipped with eight EH-101, one or two Lynx, 34 naval home guard vessels and 21 rescue vessels as well as the naval vessels at sea. The EH-101s operate from bases in Aalborg, Skrydstrup and Roskilde. When the sea water temperatures are low a helicopter is also deployed to the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. The Lynx operates from Karup. Maritime vessels are spread out through the entire coastline and on islands. The S-61s and EH-101s have a crew of six: Two pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer, a physician and a rescue swimmer.
The Estonian Border Guard (Piirivalve) is the Estonian security authority responsible for the border security. It is the main support organisation for search and rescue missions in Estonia, and operates a small fleet of SAR vessels and helicopters.
In Finland local rescue services (i.e. fire departments) are responsible for land and inland water SAR, the Border Guard is responsible for maritime areas. These organizations alert and decide on the most suitable response for the location and situation. The country also has several volunteer organizations such as the volunteer fire department (VPK), the Finnish Lifeboat Institution (SMPS) and the Red Cross Finland (SPR).
Search and Rescue in German waters is conducted by the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service with air support by the German Navy and the German Air Force. All incoming requests are coordinated by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Bremen. The DGzRS is a non-governmental organization entirely supported by donations. Also the German Coast Guard provide SAR services. Besides the offshore Search And Rescue services, the German Air Force provides 3 SAR Command Posts on a 24/7 basis with the Bell UH-1D Huey.
Further, the Technisches Hilfswerk is a key component of the German disaster relief framework. It is, among other things, regularly involved in urban search and rescue efforts abroad.
SAR operations are conducted by the Government Flying Service (GFS) and before 1993 by the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. The GFS conducts maritime SAR within the 400-nautical-mile (740 km) radius of the Hong Kong Flight Information Region (FIR).
As of 2010, the GFS fleet consists of nine aircraft including:
Other civilian search and rescue units in Hong Kong include:
The Icelandic Coast Guard is responsible for coordinating all maritime and aviation search and rescue activities in the Icelandic Search and Rescue Region (SRR), that has the size of 1.9 million square kilometres. The Icelandic Coast Guard operates JRCC ICELAND in combination with the Coast Guard's operation centre, the maritime traffic service and the coastal radio stations. If aircraft crash site is located on land the control of the rescue operations is diverted to the Icelandic Police, which is responsible for SAR operations on land. The Icelandic Coast Guard (JRCC ICELAND) is the Cospas-Sarsat SAR Point of Contact. ISAVIA, which operates the Air Traffic Control in Iceland, is responsible for the aviation alerting services. The Icelandic Coast Guard operates maritime patrol aircraft, SAR helicopters and patrol vessels.
The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg) (ICESAR) is a volunteer organization with about 100 rescue teams located all around the island. ICESAR is a great support to SAR operations both on land and sea. All the rescue teams contain groups of specially trained individuals.
A specialized INSARAG External Classification certified rubble rescue squad operates under the Icelandic Association of Search and Rescue. It was the first rescue squad to arrive in Haiti following the earthquake of 2010.
SAR services are provided by a civilian body: the Irish Coast Guard. It has responsibility for the Irish Search and Rescue Region.
The waterborne element of Search and Rescue is provided by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution from 43 lifeboat stations including inland stations at Enniskillen and Lough Derg, the coastguard inshore rescue boats, and community rescue boats at fifteen stations: Ballinskelligs - Co. Kerry, Ballybunion - Co. Kerry, Ballyheigue - Co. Kerry, Banna - Co. Kerry, Bantry - Co. Cork, Bunmahon - Co. Waterford, Cahore - Co. Wexford, Carna - Co. Galway, Corrib/Mask Lakes - Co. Galway, Derrynane - Co. Kerry, Limerick City (River Shannon), Mallow Search and Rescue - Co. Cork, Schull - Co. Cork, Tramore - Co. Waterford, Waterford City River Rescue, Waterford Marine Search & Rescue. There are some 25 other independent rescue services.
Mountain Rescue in Ireland is provided by 12 voluntary teams based in different regions of the country.
The Irish Defence Forces are assigned from time to time to carry out search and rescue operations. Ireland's special forces, the Army Ranger Wing have been used for search and rescue operations in difficult or dangerous operations on land and at sea. The Irish Naval Service frequently assists the other agencies in search and rescue. Its patrol ships at sea and the communications center at Haulbowline maintain a 24-hour watch on all distress frequencies. The Irish Air Corps are used for rescue and provide top cover for search and rescue over land or sea.
SAR in Israel is the responsibility of the IDFHome Front CommandSearch and Rescue (SAR). The unit was established at its current strength in 1984, combining all the specialist units that were involved with SAR until that time.
The SAR unit is a rapid mobilization force and has an airborne transport and deployment capability for its personnel and equipment. The unit is composed of reserve personnel, with a regular cadre based at the Bahad 16
In today’s economy, everyone is looking to do more with less, and the fire service is no exception. Due to budget reductions, fire departments across the country have had to reduce levels of support staff along with highly trained firefighters/paramedics. Many departments haven’t been able to take advantage of training or purchase needed equipment due to their lack of funding. But one thing has remained constant: Citizens continue to expect high-quality, timely response capabilities when emergencies occur. In many communities, departments might look to volunteers to fill the gap.
Of course, volunteer firefighters comprise a majority of those in the fire service, and volunteer responders in a variety of disciplines are common nationwide. Many departments recognize the value of well-trained volunteers. So in tough economic times like these, are there other areas of response operations where we can effectively utilize volunteers? The answer is yes!
Normally, when we talk about search and rescue, we are referring to the “basic” search function performed at a fire scene or to the specialized function performed by regional heavy-rescue task forces or federal urban search and rescue (USAR) teams. But most departments experience numerous requests for search and rescue that fall in between these extremes—and that’s where volunteers can come in.
The Eureka (Mo.) Fire Protection District (EFPD; www.efpd.org) has incorporated a volunteer search and rescue (SAR) team into its cadre of operations that has proven to be a professional asset to both the fire district and the communities within the region.
Meeting a Need
The EFPD’s SAR team was formed in 2002 after the district recognized that there was a need for trained volunteers when searching for lost, injured or missing persons.
“Along with our mutual-aid partners and agencies, we noticed that we were receiving niche requests for lost, injured or missing persons as well as large animal rescues,” recalls EFPD Chief Greg Brown. “Unfortunately, without a specialized team like we now have, we had to use firefighters and EMT/paramedics.”
Since its establishment, the team has grown from a mounted unit to a multi-disciplined, self-sufficient search team consisting of specialized canine, mounted search, ground search and large-animal teams. Additionally, the team has its own communications and support capabilities along with trained planning and management personnel. The team’s 35 volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds, including medical, business, construction, aviation and public safety.
“We now have a highly trained team of volunteers who have desire and drive. And the enhanced capabilities the team brings to an incident ensure safety for all involved, as well as the best possible outcome,” Brown says. “The community-service aspect of this team is saving lives, and protecting property is a plus.”
The volunteer SAR team features expertise in the following areas.
Team members are trained in all aspects of communications and have their own communications network that includes VHF and UHF radios, repeaters and extenders. Recently, the team obtained an incident command trailer that includes various communications capabilities as well as computerized mapping software to formulate search plans and track search progress.
This capability proved to be very beneficial when the team was called in by local law enforcement to search a state park for a missing person in an area of difficult terrain and limited local resources. The team deployed its own interoperable communications network for the search.
The team’s canine unit is one of its most frequently deployed assets. This unit uses dogs trained in trailing, air scent and human remains detection. Currently, the unit consists of three dogs and their handlers.
According to Pat Tuholske, K9 unit coordinator, the training for a dog and its handler takes about two years. All training, both initial and continuing, is paid for by the handler. To be on the team, handlers and dogs must hold a national certification in the discipline for which they deploy, along with completing a team evaluation.
The K9 teams have certifications from the North American Police Working Dog Association uaataubzdand the American Working Dog Association.
Mounted Search & Large-Animal Rescue
When the EFPD SAR team began operations, it was based upon equine capabilities. As compared to searching by foot, horses are faster, can carry more supplies (which enables them to stay out longer), offer a higher viewing platform for searching and provide a more rested rescue worker when a subject is found. The team’s mounted unit uses well-trained horses capable of searching large tracts of forest, fields, trails and other terrain.
With their equine expertise, SAR team members broadened their capabilities to include a technical large-animal emergency rescue (TLAR) unit. Most fire departments are well-equipped and well-trained for protecting and saving human life and property, but what about horses, cattle and other large animals?
Following a vehicle accident with a rolled-over trailer, a trapped horse or other large animal can be difficult to extricate. Rescuers untrained in large-animal extrication can quickly become victims themselves, or use tactics that may exacerbate the animal’s injuries.
The members of this unit have undergone specialized training in how to prepare for and safely approach large-animal incidents such as overturned and wrecked trailers or livestock haulers, large animals loose on the road and large animals stuck in mud or ravines, as well as incidents where people are trapped with the animal.
Departments interested in implementing a volunteer SAR team should consider the time requirements it will pose on the department, as well as the qualifications that volunteers must meet.
Within the EFPD’s command staff, Deputy Chief Randall Gabel has oversight of the SAR team; Lt. Ed Kriska serves as the district’s liaison to the team. In this role, Kriska interacts with the team’s leadership and serves on the team’s command staff. According to Kriska, about 20% of his time is spent managing SAR team business. “Operationally, scheduling volunteers is a bit more challenging than career individuals,” he says. “For example, when we get called out on a search, I have to work around the volunteers’ personal schedules, which may pose conflicts, rather than simply turn to a group that’s already on duty for a scheduled period of time.”
To become a member of the team, individuals must complete an application that’s similar to an employment application. The EFPD also requests and checks personal references for each volunteer. Along with the application, the applicant agrees to (and pays for) a background check that is verified by local law enforcement. Once the application process has been completed, a formal interview is conducted. With a successful application, background check and interview, chief-approved recommendations are then formally approved by the EFPD’s board of directors.
As with any organization, career or volunteer, funding is always an issue. Team expenses average $5,000 per year, to which the EFPD contributes about $1,000. The majority of expenses are paid for by the members themselves. This includes the cost of uniforms, equipment and supplies. Additionally, team members pay for their own incidentals (gas, food, etc.) during training and deployments. Fundraisers have helped the team raise money, which in turn has been used to defer team-related expenses. In addition to raising money, these opportunities also prove to be strong public relations opportunities—not just for the team itself but for the fire district as well.
Recently, the team was approved as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which will allow it to solicit and accept donations for which donors will receive a tax benefit. In addition, the team will be able to apply for various grants.
Liability is another issue that comes up when dealing with volunteers. Because of its affiliation with the fire district, members of the EFPD SAR team are considered volunteer firefighters and are therefore covered under existing worker’s compensation coverage. Additionally, the Firefighters Association of Missouri (FFAM) provides a life insurance policy and the Missouri Fire Marshal’s Office provides a death benefit for any firefighter (career or volunteer) killed in the line of duty.
Some public safety agencies may be reluctant to develop a volunteer SAR team, perhaps due to a lack of understanding as to how to effectively incorporate a volunteer program. This reluctance can readily be overcome by talking with peers in agencies that have already gone down the path and have overcome the challenges. In some cases, resistance might come from the misconception that volunteers are trying to take over career positions. This is simply not true. Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds. Most are gainfully employed and are simply looking for an opportunity to give back to the community, learn new skills and meet new friends. Volunteers are a terrific resource that can add great value.
“It takes a special individual to be on this team,” Kriska says. “Members not only give a lot of their personal time, but they also pay their own way. And, they do it all to simply help find someone. They bring the missing home.”
When the team is deployed, it’s done so at no cost to the requesting parties. Law enforcement agencies and fire departments across Missouri and western Illinois have requested the EFPD SAR team to assist in all manner of searches and other incidents requiring trained searchers.
Team policy states that the SAR team does not self-deploy. Rather, the team must be requested by another public safety agency in order to deploy. Typically, those requests are made through direct contact with the EFPD’s administrative offices or by calling the district’s dispatch center.
Members of the team carry pagers or cell phones so that all members can be instantly notified of a search call-out. When dispatched, each member of the team responds to the search area with their equipment, first-aid supplies and two-way radios for communication with search coordinators and other team members.
Successful assignments include locating an Alzheimer’s patient lost in the woods on a cold winter night, assisting in locating missing children and responding to searches following natural disasters. The team was deployed twice to assist in search activities following the devastating F5 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., in May 2011. In its first deployment, the team worked side by side with federal teams in SAR efforts. In its second deployment, the team was brought back to assist with search and recovery efforts.
Rick Judd, manager of the EFPD SAR team, says the benefit of having such a volunteer team is three-fold. “The district gains a high-visibility team for next to no cost,” he says. “From the deployments that we’ve been on, the media coverage that resulted was extremely positive. For the public, they realize the availability of a highly trained team of individuals that can easily and rapidly blend into the existing incident command structure established at a search.” And from a public safety standpoint, the SAR team brings search theory and tactics that aren’t generally taught in law enforcement and fire academies to incidents. “In turn, our positive outcomes are comparatively higher,” Judd says.
By simply recognizing a need within the community, applying some creative thinking, and empowering a few dedicated volunteers, the EFPD has developed an SAR team that continually proves to be a valuable asset in the fire district’s operations cadre. If your department faces similar needs, consider the benefits that a volunteer SAR team could bring to your community.
The Eureka (Mo.) Fire Protection District
The EFPD is located in Southwest St. Louis County and Northern Jefferson County, approximately 30 miles southwest of St. Louis. The ISO 4-rated district operates out of three stations and protects 28,000 people. It provides EMS, fire and rescue service to an urban and rural community comprising 82 square miles, the largest in St. Louis County.
The district is a combination department, utilizing both volunteer (reserve) and career staff, and has nearly 100 members, including paramedics, EMTs, firefighters and support team members, as well as an Explorer post.
SAR Team Training
Within six months of joining the team, all team members are required to have completed a core group of classes. Most are accessible online at no cost. This basic group of classes includes:
- ICS 100: Introduction to Incident Command System
- ICS 200: ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
- ICS 700: NIMS: An Introduction
- ICS 800: National Response Framework
- CPR/AED and First Aid
- SAR Tech III (Offered by the National Association for Search and Rescue)
Additionally, team members train year round in backcountry travel; map, compass and GPS use; communications; evidence preservation; and search and rescue operations.
Paul M. Ross, Jr.
Paul M. Ross Jr. is a St. Louis-based writer, photographer and fire district captain/EMT/information officer, with 15 years spent in Western U.S. wildland firefighting/air operations and urban fire-rescue ops. Visit his website at www.moyercreek.com for additional information.