The folks of search and rescue may just be the nicest people you never want to meet on trail. In Washington alone, they conduct more than 800 missions a year to assist lost or injured outdoor enthusiasts. And what’s more—they do it for free.
Even though they don’t charge for their services, it takes resources—from money to manpower—to keep these volunteer rescuers on the mountain. Luckily, supporting search and rescue is as easy as donating your spare change or your spare time.
Donate Your Spare Change
The equipment involved in complex rescue missions is extensive. Litters, radios, command vehicles and helicopters are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the equipment is funded by private donations, not tax money like most people think, so this is a real opportunity for you to make a difference. Help ensure that finances are never an obstacle for search and rescue by making your own donation. There are three main ways:
1. Make an individual contribution online or by check.
Most search and rescue organizations (which, by the way, are organized at the county level, for example: King County Search and Rescue) have web sites where you can learn more about the group, make online donations and find an address for sending in a check. Donations are tax deductible and can often be directed to the individual unit (ex. helicopter) or project you feel most strongly about. No amount is too small.
Tip: Find the organization you’d like to donate to by googling the county you live in along with “search and rescue.”
2. Participate in workplace giving.
Many companies will match employee donations to search and rescue if you participate in a workplace giving program. In some cases, your volunteer time will also be matched with a monetary corporate donation—or counted as work time.
Tip: Even if your company doesn’t have an official workplace giving program in place, ask if they’d be willing to match your individual contribution to search and rescue.
3. Provide a business sponsorship.
There are many ways to support search and rescue as a business owner. In-kind donations are always appreciated, as are sponsorships for training days or equipment.
Tip: Consider holding an employee fundraising drive to purchase equipment (ex. set of radios) that your local search and rescue organization needs.
Donate Your Spare Time
It takes hundreds of volunteers to keep search and rescue running and available for those who need it. Join their ranks and become a trail angel yourself. It just might be the most fulfilling thing you ever do. Not sure about where to start? Check out our Q&A:
Q: How old do I need to be to volunteer?
A: You can begin the search and rescue training program at age 13 but you must be 14 to become state certified.
Q: What kinds of volunteer jobs are available?
A: There are lots of ways to volunteer with search and rescue. And not all of them involve physically rescuing someone from the woods. So see what positions your local unit has available and let your interests be your guide. If you really enjoy radios, consider volunteering for communications. If you love organizing people, administration might be the perfect fit. If you love to cook, ask about your organization’s food truck. Other ideas: searching for evidence with your dog on the K9 team, driving rough roads in your 4WD vehicle with the 4x4 team, and putting your climbing skills to work with the mountain rescue team.
Q: How do I take the first step toward volunteering?
A: Visit your local organization’s web site (see tip from above about how to find that) for information on how you should proceed. Some units want people to attend a meeting before submitting an application to volunteer; others do it differently. In general, though, you can expect to complete an application and go in for an interview before being selected for training.
Q: How much training should I expect?
A: It takes 164 hours of training in map and compass navigation, outdoor survival and first aid to become state certified as a “ground pounder.” Many individuals join specialty units once their state certification is complete, which means additional training requirements and practice hours.
Q: How often will I have to respond to calls?
A: The unit you join will determine how often you need to respond to calls. Some units, like the helicopter rescue team, have on-call hours. With other units, you can pick and choose when to participate in missions.
Regardless of how you support search and rescue, whether that’s by donating $5 or joining an elite unit, your contribution is important. And it could mean the difference between life or death for someone who’s lost or injured in the great outdoors. So give generously. After all, the life you help save might someday be your own.
* This article focuses on volunteer search and rescue, which is the vast majority of the group’s personnel. A limited number of search and rescue positions are taxpayer funded; in many counties, there is one paid staff member to dozens (or even hundreds) of volunteers. Larger counties may have more.