Saving Lives and Wilderness Survival: What it’s Like to Work in a Search and Rescue Unit

People who enjoy the outdoors can find themselves many miles away from civilization and aid. While this doesn’t faze many adventurers, it does pose a significant risk that should not be taken lightly.

Many people are well versed in how to take care of themselves outside the comforts of home. There are also others who aren’t. Either way, but some means or another, misfortune will befall someone.

It can come as bad weather, an animal attack, illness or injury or any other situation that puts someone in a bad spot.

It’s those times when they’re counting on someone to get them out. That’s where Search and Rescue comes in.

How SAR operates will vary between states. In Oregon, the responsibility of SAR falls onto the county sheriff.

Eugene Mountain Rescue, my unit, mainly works with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office and also assists other jurisdictions around the state. There are also non-profits that will various regions of the state and are called upon but not necessarily a part of a sheriff’s office.

Individual units can specialize in fields such as all-terrain vehicles, K9 searches, emergency communications and diving. EMR is a unit that focuses on rock, alpine, snow and ground search missions. Most SAR personnel in Oregon are volunteers.

Four Reasons to Join a SAR Team

1. Public Service
You’ll be serving your community in an area that really doesn’t ever run low on demand. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction that comes from missions and training for SAR. You’re saving lives, and that counts.

Don’t worry too much about equipment. There’s a good chance you already have plenty of the equipment that you need for SAR such as a pack, boots, medical and field gear. Your team will provide more advanced equipment such as radios and GPS units.

2. Diverse Training
SAR training will involve anything from land navigation to tracking to criminal investigations.The training not only helps you be a better rescuer, but will also help you in whatever you’re doing outside of SAR.

I’m a better-prepared hiker and snowboarder thanks to the survival and avalanche training I’ve done with EMR. I’m better able to plan trips and more prepared to help those around me.

3. Have a Story to Tell
Your conversations at work, the dinner table and the bar will be far more interesting. Your newfound knowledge of the outdoors and field craft will likely interest someone, and it makes for decent talk over a pint. Mostly.

4. A Network of Friends
You’ll find that most of your team members are a lot like you. Many will come from different backgrounds, but they’ll share a love of the outdoors and service. My unit carries a bunch of types. Some are teachers, firefighters, ex-military, businessmen and doctors. They’re a great bunch, and I know I can count on them in the field. Outside of SAR, you’ll probably join them for adventures where you’ll probably use the very skills you’ve learned in training, but just for fun.

If you’re ready to get these benefits and more, do some research on what’s available near you and get involved. Your skills can mean the difference between life and death.