Why You Should Consider Volunteering With a Search and Rescue Team

Search and rescue teams are often the first to set up camp. They work tirelessly through rain, snow, and wind for hours on end. These teams do not get paid; they must rely solely on fundraising efforts from individuals and organizations who want their help in times of need. There’s also an unspoken commitment many volunteers feel: a dedication to helping those left behind find their way back home safe.

Search and rescue teams are always on call, ready to help people in the event of an emergency. They have a diverse range of skills that can be put to use for many things including search and rescue missions, disaster relief efforts, and more. The “search and rescue team duties and responsibilities” is a great way to get involved with these organizations.

Rescue team searching with volunteers.

We’ve chosen to reprint a vintage essay each Friday to assist our younger readers discover some of the greatest, evergreen jewels from the past, with our archives currently totaling over 3,500 items. This story was first published in January of this year.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Graham Shea.

This is the time of year when individuals set personal development objectives for themselves. However, the irony of striving to better oneself is that it is best achieved by looking outside of oneself.

I came across an ad in the newspaper a few years back that mentioned my local search and rescue team was looking for volunteers. SAR teams are sent to assist those in crisis or danger, and they often venture “off road” in search of those who have gone missing or are believed to have gone missing due to an accident, foul play, mental health issues, or natural catastrophes.

Even though I wasn’t sure whether I had the skills, time, or inclination to serve my community in this capacity, I signed up nevertheless.

I was given a pager, a radio, and a bright orange shirt after completing some classroom instruction and swearing the state oath of office, and I immediately began going out on calls. I rapidly realized that by attempting to assist others, I was honing my skills, and that volunteering for search and rescue had several advantages.

Joining a Search and Rescue Team Has Its Advantages

Rescue Team searching with helicopter. 1. The Possibility of Scratching a Deep Itch

Search and rescue teams have existed since the beginning of time. The desire to locate and rescue friends is a deep-seated instinct. Perhaps you’ve had the desire to find yourself in a true emergency that requires you to give all you have for the sake of a cause greater than yourself. Maybe you’ve privately dreamed about saving someone in danger, and the prospect makes your heart race, but it seems like a far-off, once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Though it may seem that all danger has vanished from the world and that there are no longer any possibilities to scratch the itch of assisting people who are in the midst of it, the demand for this service remains quite high. Every week in your neighborhood, there are chances to serve in this capacity as part of a SAR operation.

2. The Willingness to Stay Skilled and Fit

We usually depend on self-imposed tasks to keep us motivated when it comes to improving our abilities and health. However, we usually discover that we still aspire not just to acquire such abilities for our own personal enjoyment, but also to put them to the test and put them to use in the actual world. We’re more motivated to maintain our mental and physical talents sharp when we know they’ll be put to good use.

I’ve always wanted to keep in shape, but it’s been much too simple for me to do so. However, when I joined a search and rescue team, being in shape became more than just about me. I may (and have) have to travel 12 miles down a path in the dead of night to react to a hiker’s personal locating beacon, or carry the whole weight of a lady on a backboard as we hauled her up a canyon ledge from her damaged automobile.


These hurdles were not demanded of me as a volunteer. They were for me to freely take, and if there was a chore I knew I wasn’t up to, like manning ropes, there were plenty of others. But I found myself wanting to be ready for as many contingencies as possible, and I got completely addicted to acquiring new talents and pushing my own boundaries.

A man must “be strong to be helpful,” as physical culturist Georges Hebert put it in the nineteenth century.

3. Survival Advice from the Front Lines, or What Not to Do

They say it’s a shame we only live once since death may be the greatest teacher. This thought has always bothered me as a passionate outdoorsman. What dangerous dangers am I taking that I’m not even aware of? What abilities might help to lessen such dangers? What is the most common way for actual individuals like me to die?

While SAR has provided me with a solid education in what to do in the outdoors, it has also provided me with a rare and valuable look at what not to do — the enemies (hypothermia, trauma from a fall, poor planning, disorientation, and so on) that are most likely to kill me and my recreation partners. These things are not intuitive, contrary to popular belief. You can read about them in books, but how they emerge in the actual world is more perplexing and surprising. These specters will never be seen by the typical individual, at least not until they take his or a loved one’s life.

Because I volunteer with SAR, I can now regard a two-foot-deep river as a dangerous trap while also having the courage to accomplish things that would have seemed much riskier otherwise, knowing that I’ve taken prudent safeguards based on previous experience. My SAR buddies are also a never-ending source of survival knowledge gleaned from years of field experience.

4. Self-awareness (and mastery) in real-life situations

My personality type was one of the least suited to becoming an emergency responder, according to Myers Briggs. I have a weak emotional skin and am quickly swayed by powerful emotions. I was afraid that if there was a fight, a fire, or an accident, and I had my genuine opportunity to be a man, I would snap or panic and regret it for the rest of my life.

As the SAR calls came in, I learned I was really very adept at maintaining a cool mind, and that I even thrived in stressful situations. When the adrenaline rush hit and seconds counted, I had plenty of opportunities to exercise mindfulness and situational awareness. I learned to zoom out, think clearly, and act decisively. This instilled in me confidence and self-awareness, two of the most significant attributes I possess. I’m not sure how I could have gotten them any other way.

5. You Rely on Inside Knowledge of Emergency Systems

Have you ever thought, “What would happen if things go wrong for my family and me?” You’ve got your sultry bug out bag and survivalist essentials, but the rest is a mystery. SAR is under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department in my county in California. That means we communicate and listen on law enforcement frequencies, and we need to understand how various agencies work together at all levels, from local to national.


It’s simple to speculate about how a catastrophe may effect you, but volunteering for SAR puts you on the inside and even exposes flaws in your local systems that the general public is unaware of. You become a part of the answer as well. You’ll be well-versed on not just evacuation routes and response protocols, but also how to carry them out. And if you’re the one who gets hurt and calls for assistance, you’ll know things like how long it’ll take for aid to arrive, what information will help speed up your rescue, who to give it to, and that it’ll ultimately be your SAR friends and teammates who come to get you.

6. Training and Certifications at a Reduced CostA SAR jeep on a slop in woods.

Many SAR teams fund or pay for team members’ training and certifications in order to improve the team’s overall capabilities. You may also have abilities that you may put to use straight immediately as a member of a SAR team, such as SCUBA certification or drone expertise. Learning new SAR skills may help you improve not just your search and rescue capabilities, but also your leisure interests. Consider the following list of SAR talents, which is not exhaustive:

Urban SAR

  • EMT
  • SAR in a confined space
  • Hazardous materials training
  • Rope safety in technical terms
  • Powerful instruments
  • Telecommunications

SAR in the mountains

  • CPR
  • First responder in the wilderness
  • Swiftwater rescue is necessary.
  • 4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4/4
  • Rope rescue from a low/high angle
  • Camping in the winter
  • Climbing on snow and ice
  • Ski SAR
  • SAR Avalanche
  • Tracking a man
  • SAR canine
  • Driving a vehicle with a code 3

A word about code 3 driving: Not every SAR team is permitted to drive with lights and sirens (code 3), but some are. Because our county is big and rural, some emergency calls need us to travel a significant distance in a short amount of time. SAR members get code 3 driving certification in the same manner as law enforcement officials do, including skid pans, cones, and racing tracks. It’s excellent to be able to react to situations more quickly and safely, but let’s face it: speeding legally is every man’s fantasy. One of the thrills of my SAR engagement has been flying by a highway patrol and watching him grin and wave.

7. Professional Deals

Infrared searching.

Searching for a lost person using infrared.

I was always envious of my friends who worked in the outdoor business because they were able to get great deals on gear. The fact that members of my SAR team were eligible for such discounts wasn’t the major reason I joined, but it surely helped. I went out and bought a lot of personal outdoor gear that would aid me both on and off the team right once. I even discovered that businesses outside of our formal collective would give SAR members discounts on items like infrared cameras and other necessary equipment.

8. The Opportunity to Play Sherlock Holmes (If That’s Something You’ve Always Wanted to Do)

Searches are just as exciting as rescues. SAR isn’t just about muscle. You arrive at a search scene, study the evidence, and your mind immediately starts racing through all the possibilities for connecting them, knowing that the solution may be just around the corner. Searches are meticulously planned. You’re looking for footsteps and garbage cans. Your attention to detail improves and sharpens, and you begin to work rather than wonder.


As a SAR searcher, you might be a frightened or mourning family’s only hope. You may also be on the front lines of justice if there was any wrongdoing. Despite this, the hero role is nearly usually uncontroversial; SAR volunteers get to play the good guys. They don’t have to deal with cumbersome paperwork or confrontational offenders, unlike law enforcement.

I was recently sent to locate a guy who had served as the major income for his family, who were not wealthy. It was quite improbable that he was still alive. He had a sizable bank account, but in missing person investigations, bank accounts are normally blocked until a corpse is discovered. A missing individual is usually pronounced deceased in the absence of tangible proof after seven years. That means a family’s funds might be lost, not to mention a dreadful sense of closure, unless someone can assist in the discovery of a corpse or a conclusive hint.

People’s Reluctance to Volunteer

Rescue team carrying person on a stretcher.

Volunteering with your local search and rescue team is an often-overlooked chance to test and improve your mettle, stock and sharpen your toolbox of masculine abilities, and help your local community in a fulfilling manner, as I hope you can see from the argument I made above.

If you’re still on the fence about taking on this type of responsibility, let me address some of the most typical concerns:

“It seems fantastic, but I’m not sure I’d be able to take the emotional stress.”

This was my first and most significant qualm about volunteering. What I didn’t understand was how much of a difference being a helpful made. The great majority of calls aren’t very grisly, but the ones that are haven’t disturbed me as much as I expected, since I’ve always been grateful to be there, and I’ve slept well knowing that I was there. It’s difficult to fathom not becoming a SAR volunteer when the call is as bad as it is.

“I don’t have the necessary talents to do this.”

To join a search and rescue squad, you don’t have to be a previous or present law enforcement officer, combat medic, or all-around MacGyver. In reality, there are no necessary skills required. Everything you’ll need to know will come from your regular training (my team trains once a month) and on-the-job learning.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to volunteer.”

 The time commitment isn’t as significant as you would believe.

Although SAR teams differ in terms of dedication, you may only get one or two calls every week, apart from regular training sessions. SAR personnel are volunteers (as opposed to police or other organizations), therefore there is no contractual duty to react if otherwise engaged. A call might come at any moment, and you’ll respond as soon as you’re able. SAR teams depend on a large number of volunteers so that not everyone is required to respond to every emergency (though the more people that volunteer, the easier they all have it).


Time was probably my second largest concern, yet it went by far faster than I anticipated. I began to want the strident beeping of my pager, hoping it would occur more often. I’d be back home in an hour or two on most calls, but with the stunning understanding that I’d just saved someone.

To put it another way, I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour or two of my week than for my own personal needs.

To my amazement, I also began to learn how to better manage my time. I didn’t stay up late spending time on frivolous activities since I needed to save an energy reserve in case I needed to make a SAR call. Most days, the call would go unanswered, and I’d be much more effective in my own activities, operating well within my limitations.

Ironically, it is the worth of our time that defines our productivity, not the quantity of time we have. And when people’s lives were on the line, the value of my time soared.

“It seems like fun, but I’m sure someone else is taking care of it.”

SAR volunteers, regrettably, frequently go undetected since they generally operate in areas where news cameras can’t or won’t go.

You may believe that full-time first responders would be able to do all that has to be done in an emergency. However, each agency has its own set of skills and limitations, and SAR teams play an important role in supporting these official response units.

California is just completing up its biggest SAR effort in history, on its deadliest fire in history, the Camp Fire, as I write this. SAR teams from all throughout the nation joined together to aid, with over 400 active volunteers every day.

When I started being summoned to lug people up cliffs on a backboard and EMTs and guys with badges would stand back and basically say, “You’re the expert,” it hit me like a ton of bricks. They’d then pull out their phones and start taking photographs. SAR, not highway patrol or firemen, responds to anybody in difficulty who is not on the road in my county.

You could also believe that, even though SAR volunteers are critical, there will be plenty of other individuals willing to help. In actuality, volunteering is at an all-time low, and it’s getting worse every year. Volunteering isn’t something that will be taken care of by “someone else”; you are required!

If you’re interested in helping, check into local sheriff departments, the National Search and Rescue Association, and your state’s Office of Emergency Services.

The Call to Confront

To be clear, the only thing that is simple is joining up. SAR is a difficult job. That, in my opinion, was the whole idea. In my life, I realized I wanted deeper, more important challenges. Self-imposed challenges were ineffective. I needed to raise the bar on the abilities I wanted to study and practice, but until I found SAR, there were no realistic options without embarking on a new professional path.


Volunteering with SAR is a very fulfilling experience because you become a member of a devoted, altruistic, and professional group of volunteers who do good in local communities in the most exciting manner imaginable. Facing genuine life-and-death concerns for the sake of my community quickly melted away the existential anxiety of my cushy existence, forced me to go outside of myself, and helped me grow as a man.

Volunteering with SAR is a very fulfilling experience because you become a member of a devoted, altruistic, and professional group of volunteers who do good in local communities in the most exciting manner imaginable. Facing genuine life-and-death concerns for the sake of my community quickly melted away the existential anxiety of my cushy existence, forced me to go outside of myself, and helped me grow as a man.

Graham Shea is a freelance writer, pilot, poet, and photographer. Visit grahamshea.blogspot.com for his blog, and grahamshea.com for his photography.



Search and rescue teams are always in need of volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering with a search and rescue team, there is no better place to start than Colorado. Reference: search and rescue volunteer colorado.

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