How to Volunteer for Search and Rescue

By: Eleanor Duse

Search and Rescue Gear

What gear you'll need for a search and rescue mission depends on the emergency at hand. For example, a collapsed building doesn't demand the exact equipment setup you'd use to rescue a lost hiker. Your gear will also depend on your training. And you'll need to know your environment and its typical extremes.

Your team will require that you carry a certain minimum of standardized equipment. What you carry beyond that is up to you. Following your training, you'll likely have a good idea of all the different things that can go wrong, and the ways you can prepare for those problems. On an actual SAR effort, you'll have to balance preparation against practicality and endurance -- what you can realistically carry for what may be a very long day of work. Some items to consider are:


  • Comfortable, appropriate shoes, and multiple pairs of socks
  • Protective headgear, such as a helmet or hardhat
  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • Pocket multi-purpose tool or Swiss Army knife
  • Large tarp (useful not just for keeping things dry but also for constructing a makeshift stretcher)
  • Signal flares
  • Reflective tape
  • Life vest
  • Dust mask
  • Safety goggles
  • Wading boots
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Trail mix or snack bars
  • Protection against heat and cold -- such as extra water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, gloves, thermal underwear, ear and face protection, pocket hand warmers and an insulated jacket or jumpsuit
  • Backpack with padded straps for toting your supplies around

Additionally, specialized efforts, such as HazMat work, require specialized gear. The gear depends on what sort of hazardous material you're dealing with [source: IAFF].

Some SAR teams require members to wear uniforms. This may cost several hundred dollars [source: U.S. SAR Task Force]. That might seem steep, but think about the intangible benefits of a uniform in an emergency. Uniforms make it easy to identify SAR members, which can help maintain organization and help crowds stay calm during a widespread disaster. Someone in shock might calm down -- actually becoming easier to treat -- knowing that he or she is in the presence of a trained emergency responder. A uniform also helps the SAR team know that everyone on the team has certain standardized gear, which makes it easier for the team to streamline its response.

On the next page, an answer to the burning question, "Can I bring my dog?"