Frequently Asked Questions
How do I call a SAR team?
Who is in charge of SAR in Colorado?
How much does a SAR mission in Colorado cost?
Why did a volunteer fire department send me a bill for a SAR mission?
How can I find a job in SAR?
Should I carry a cellular phone in the backcountry?
What about one of the new PLBs - Personal Locator Beacons?
Is a GPS receiver better than a compass?
What are "The Mountaineer's 10 Essentials?"
If you need to report someone missing, you should call the sheriff of the county in which the missing party is traveling. The sheriff will then contact the county's SAR team. Be prepared to supply this information:
- Name of the missing party
- Clothing description (especially colors)
- Number in the group
- Intended destination
- Route plans
- Medical history (if any)
- Vehicle description
- How long overdue
- Level of experience in backcountry
- Your callback telephone number. Stay by that phone until instructed otherwise. The SAR team leader may need to talk to you further.
If you do not know what county they are in, make a best guess. That sheriff's office and its SAR team can assist you in narrowing that down.
If you are calling in a backcountry emergency for yourself, or someone you
have come across, dial 9-1-1 or contact the county sheriff. Be prepared to give
the dispatcher your location, and the county you are in as a cellular phone
call might not be received by the correct county. That dispatcher may have to switch your phone call to another county sheriff. Give the
dispatcher(s) the following information:
- Your name and callback number
- Your location and/or the location and altitude of the emergency
- Nature of the emergency
- Number in party
- Any injuries
- Current weather and elevation
- Equipment available at the scene
- The experience level of those at the scene.
- Your callback telephone number. Stay by that phone until instructed otherwise.
According to the Colorado Revised Statues:
24-33.5-707. Local and interjurisdictional disaster agencies and services
(10) The sheriff of each county shall:
(a) Be the official responsible for coordination of all search and rescue operations within the sheriff's jurisdiction;
(b) Make use of the search and rescue capability and resources available within the county and request assistance from the office of emergency management only when and if the sheriff determines such additional assistance is required.
Colorado's organized search and rescue teams are volunteer organizations and do not charge for their services. Please read the CSRB Policy on Charging for Search and Rescue Services. Team members contribute their time to help anyone who needs assistance. The actual money spent may be as little as the fuel for vehicles to respond, or as much as many thousands of dollars if the mission lasts many days and involved aircraft. Ultimately, any expenses are borne by county sheriff or the SAR team.
Colorado SAR teams do not, and Colorado sheriffs may not, charge for SAR services. Remember, don't delay calling for help because you are afraid of a bill. Call as soon as necessary so help can be sent your way.
If you, a member of your party or an immediate relative is a Colorado-licensed hunter or fisherman, have registered a boat, snowmobile or off-road vehicle, or have purchased a "Colorado Outdoor Recreation SAR Card," the county sheriff and the SAR units can be reimbursed for expenses by the Colorado SAR Fund, which is funded by those sportsmen and recreationalists.
As the official responsible for coordination of all search and rescue operations within the sheriff's jurisdiction a Colorado sheriff might ask a volunteer fire department to perform SAR in the county. However, a fire protection district (the legal format usually used in rural and frontier counties) is allowed, by state statute CRS 32-1-1002 (1) (e) (I), to charge a fee only for "ambulance or emergency medical services and extrication, rescue, or safety services provided in furtherance of ambulance or emergency medical services. 'Extrication, rescue, or safety services' includes but is not limited to any:
(A) Services provided prior to the arrival of an ambulance;
(B) Rescue or extrication of trapped or injured parties at the scene of a motor vehicle accident; and
(C) Lane safety or blocking provided by district equipment.' "
There is no authority to charge for any other service a fire protection district might perform (CRS 32-1-1001(1)(j)(I)).
Ah, livin' the life, huh? The vast majority of SAR is performed in the U.S. by volunteers. Paid positions in SAR are most unusual and are almost always within a government agency. In Colorado this would be limited to the National Park Service, which uses seasonal climbing/SAR rangers, and some sheriff's departments. Many National Parks do have a SAR coordinator. At the county level, most deputies with any SAR responsibilities are at the management level in an "emergency services" office, or have SAR as a secondary duty to law enforcement.
In some counties in other states, the sheriff's department has dedicated SAR deputies that are dedicated, full-time SAR technicians (Los Angeles, Calif.). In other states, SAR is the responsibility of a state land management or natural resources department, as the Maine Warden Service.
Outside the military, full-time SAR jobs are few and very, very far between. However, to increase the chance of landing a position, follow fields of study that lead to a bachelors degree in either natural resources or law enforcement/emergency services.
You may feel the calling nevertheless. If you are interested in volunteering with one of Colorado's many teams, contact the CSRB to find one in your area, or call your county sheriff for local information.
A cellular phone can save enormous time in reporting an emergency. However, do not depend upon a cell phone by itself -- batteries die, coverage may be intermittent or nonexistent. In this case you are without help. You should always be prepared to recognize, prevent and deal with backcountry emergencies without a cellular phone or a radio. Know first-aid, how to use a map and compass; understand weather and its danger; carry the "10 Essentials"of backcountry travel.
PLBs for land use are brand new to the lower 48 United States. They are similar
to "ELTs" carried on aircraft and "EPIRBS" on boats.
However, they are the NOT be-all, end-all safety device. When activated a PLB
will transmit a distress signal to overhead satellites used for airplane crashes
and maritime emergencies. The information collected by the satellite can give
rescuers an approximate position. Some PLBs have a GPS receiver in it and
can transmit its location. The PLB does not, however, tell anyone what the
emergency is. Is it an avalanche, a broken leg or a missing hunter? Depending upon your
location it may still take several hours, perhaps longer, for rescuers to reach you. So you must be prepared to sustain yourself or companions until help arrives. This means knowing first aid, how build a fire and a shelter, recognize hypothermia and impending dangerous weather. It means carrying the minimum tools and supplies necessary to do this. Do NOT think, "I'll just turn on my PLB and help will be here quickly!" -- this is not the city where emergency help can drive to you in minutes. And it should never be used for anything but a serious emergency.
When this popular electronic device is working it can give you a precise location. What do you then do with that information? Even just pushing the" Home" button may work against you if you have no map. The GPS receiver may direct you on a path that takes you over a 2,500' ridge or to the edge of a canyon 600' deep. Always carry and know how to use a compass AND a map. When the GPS' batteries die, or the sky is obscured they will still get you home. Experienced navigators on SAR teams don't rely on technology alone -- should you?
- First aid kit
- Map and compass
- Pocket knife
- Matches and fire starter
- Emergency shelter
- Emergency food
- Extra water
- Extra clothing