Outdoor Seattle

Search and Rescue

RAF Search and Recue Why

I have that need again… being involved in something that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when the phone rings.  As a result I have asked for an application for the county search and rescue organization.

Washington and Seattle is this amazing eco system with mountains that rise to 14,000 feet, beaches, remote forests, and large urban environments; it is a very amazing part of the world.  As a result of this diversity the King County Search and Rescue team has over 700 hundred volunteers with units specialized in mountain rescue, ski and alpine rescue, mounted services, trackers, and 4 X 4 teams to cover large areas; I think you get the picture.  I realize that I am not in condition to run up the mountain in full gear, the physical for some of the teams is pretty demanding; I am trying to get a position in the Incident Support Team.  You will find a little bit of information below if you are also looking for something that drags you right into the thick of it.

King County Search and Rescue

Washington State and King County has a long history of using volunteers to assist the Sheriff in their Search and Rescue responsibilities. The county has about 700 qualified, trained volunteers, spread across eight distinct non-profit Search and Rescue units that work together in a cooperative association known as the King County Search and Rescue Association (KCSARA). These volunteers are ready to go at a moment’s notice; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all year long, no matter the weather or the time of day or night.

The Sheriff’s Office provides the legal authority for Search and Rescue work and KCSARA provides the workers at no cost to the public. King County is the most active county in the State in terms of Search and Rescue work and KCSARA is one of the most active volunteer Search and Rescue groups in the Nation, often being called upon to assist outside of King County.

King County Search and Rescue Association is built from the following units:

Incident Support Team – IST

IST provides mission glue between KCSO and KCSARA. During missions, the unit provides administration, record keeping, radio logging, and other duties as assigned. The unit provides expertise with plan development and execution. Many IST members are also members of other units. This provides a better appreciation and understanding of all the unit’s operations and allows us to effect a better mission operation.  If you have questions, contact KCSARIST@KCSARA.org.  You can also visit the KCSAR website for more details.

Explorer Search and Rescue – ESAR

ESAR serves as the primary “ground-pounder” team for general SAR technicians. King County Explorer Search & Rescue* (ESAR) is the largest of the eight units in the King County Search and Rescue Association (KCSARA). The 100% volunteer organization was founded in 1954 as the first youth based search and rescue team in the nation. ESAR is the county’s primary ground search and non-technical rescue unit, and responds to over 60 missions a year in both King County and around the State of Washington.

All field qualified King County ESAR members have been rigorously trained in wilderness navigation, map and compass, outdoor survival, evidence search, and mountain first aid skills. In addition to providing a team for basic ground search and rescue, King County ESAR also maintains an advanced technical rescue team, a mountain bike search team, and a group of county and state certified Emergency Medical Technicians. Members also are quite active in the multi-unit Emergency Locator Trasmitter (ELT) team and the seasonal Rapid Alpine Deployment (RAD) team. If you want to know more call the 24-hr information line a call (206) 748-1300, send an e-mail to recruiting@kcesar.org, or visit the unit website for more detail at ESAR .

Seattle Mountain Rescue – SMR

SMR serves as the high-angle and technical rescue team.

King County 4X4 Search & Rescue

This team provides logistics, transportation, security, and coordinates with air assets.  Members take an active role in King County Search and Rescue Association (KCSARA) functions. Members are highly skilled in using electronic equipment to locate downed aircraft, in wilderness and off-road navigation and in radio communications. Many members are part of KCSARA’s Electronic Locating Transmitter (ELT) team. Members from 4X4 also respond to disaster situations in the community by providing transportation and communications services. The 4X4 unit has expanded its role to assist the King County Sheriff’s Office with Incident Command System (ICS) needs. For more information about becoming a member send an e-mail to vpa@kc4x4sar.org.

King County Search Dogs -KCSD

KCSD provide K-9 teams trained in specific tracking and scenting roles (cadaver, ground, air, etc).  King County Search Dogs provides canine search services within King County. All handlers are volunteers and provide their own dogs and outdoor equipment. Each team trains in a primary area, either air scent search, or tracking/trailing. Teams also train in specialty search areas such as evidence search, water search, disaster or avalanche search.  Go to the  KCSD website for more detailed information.

NW Trackers

PNWT provide human tracking and environmental interpretation (looks for clues) of foot travel, etc. Pacific Northwest Trackers Association (PNWT) is a fully qualified, non-profit organization dedicated to using tracking skills for search and rescue. Their capabilities are used in “lost person” and evidence searches and they have also developed a training program to teach tracking skills to other interested groups. Visit NW Trackers for more information.

Northwest Horseback Search and Rescue  

Horseback Search and Rescue provides mounted assets for trail operations. Members of this group are qualified horse owners who volunteer their time as a horse and rider team to aid in the search for lost, injured, or missing persons. Teams may also assist in transportation of equipment such as medical supplies, litters, radios, etc. Members are trained in wilderness navigation, first aid, search techniques and survival skills, all working within a team environment.  More information is available at  Northwest Horseback Search and Rescue.

Ski Patrol Alpine Rescue Team – SPART

SPART provides alpine, snow-pack and avalanche expertise. The Ski Patrol Rescue Team (SPART) provides emergency medical/trauma care in wilderness environments year round to the citizen’s of King County. SPART’s most valuable resource is it’s over 60 volunteer members who any season will take time from their otherwise busy schedules to respond to a cry for help.  More information is available at SPART.

Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR)

SMR is comprised of more than 100 mountain climbers dedicated to saving lives through back-country search and rescue, as well as mountain safety education. They specialize in “high angle” and “high hazard” operations, but also have a wealth of experience in all phases of low country search and rescue. More information is available at SMR.


  1. Helping others is what it’s really all about, and we all have different ways of doing that. The Nortwest Trackers sound interesting. (and not too exhausting)

  2. I really have enjoyed reading your blog. Great format. Complex.

  3. Very interesting post. I’ve been looking into joining a local search and rescue group with my German Shepherd. Your blog is great. I really like your clean design, and well thought out content.

    • Maria they would love to have you and your dog. It is definitely a commitment that should not be made lightly. The size of units varies, the King County Search and Rescue unit has approximately 500 members. They mostly work within the county, but they can be called upon by FEMA for larger natural disasters. This is one of the more rewarding things you can do.

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