I'm just looking  for an opinion on whether or not people think a Fire Dept. should be involved in Ground Search and Rescue? 


   With so many other resources on hand, should the Fire Dept. involve itself in GSAR?  Is GSAR part of the mission of the Fire Dept?   Is GSAR viewed as an essential part of Fire Dept. training?   What is the viewpoint on it at your Dept.?  Not everyone is going to have the same viewpoint. I expect that. People's viewpoints will vary.   

Please state your  name, Dept. and town/state when answering this post. 



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I think it depends on your area. Were I live I believe we should. Alot of small communities, populations of 700 and less. We live in north eastern Wi in the middle of several National forests. Unfortunatly, our closest trained SAR is about an hour away. And that only consists of maybe 10 people. So manpower here is very much needed.

I must agree with Bull.  I live in south western PA, in the heart of farm country.  We to have several state parks, and state game lands.  The local SAR teams consist of volunteers, so you never know how many will show.  In our area Fire and EMS are involved from the beginning.  I think it all depends on your area, and the resources you have.  I serve with my local volunteer fire dept as a EMT and Rescue Tech.  We have guys that do nothing but supression, some do only rescue, and some do only EMS, and some do a little of all.

Joe  Stoystown Fire Co./Conemaugh Twp EMS  PA

Absolutely. There's that one little word in GSAR that points that out. Rescue. a SAR operation may find a victim in an area where a rescue is needed. The likelihood of a FD being requested at that point is probably 100%, so you might as well already be there for with the necessary equiptment beforehand.

Just last weekend my Dept had training with our AMA company and the local EMS organization. this drill was working with the rescue squads "rescue sled". this sled is a trailer that was built to be towed behind an ATV or snowmobile. it has skis for winter and wheels for all other seasons. the scenerio we were given was a four-wheeler crash in the woods. this was similar to the most likely form of SAR we will see in our area. the fire dept's role in this was to help the EMS with patient access and retrieval.

Most firefighters have at least first aid training, so if used in a SAR operation could at least begin some form of treatment while waiting for additional resourses to arrive. this will be vital in some situations for a victim's survival. I think that it is a great service to the community to be available for GSAR ops.

James Hawk, Penrhyn Engine & Hose Co, Middle Granville Fire Dist. NY

In my area, the Washington DC Metropolitan area, we have specialized groups here that take of the mantle of command in major incidents.  The breakdown in the pecking order goes from Federal level , to State level, to County level, then maybe to city/town level.

We have private search teams here that get privatized funding for searches.  Every state has the Civil Air Patrol, which is the Air Force Auxiliary, that runs a highly specialized GSAR program, not just for missing people but aircraft too.  We have private K9 teams and the USCG Auxiliary. Many of these groups also contain state certified paramedics and EMT's who are not on an FD. 

  In Virginia, we are very blessed to have so many resources available to us because we can call on both civilian and military resources to help us out. We have so many different scenarios where certain resources would come into play. 

 For example the recent search here in Virginia for the missing 9 year old Autistic boy. (It ended happily) We had resources from The Army, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Air Force Auxiliary,

Hanover, Dinwiddie, New Kent, City of Richmond, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Dept. of Justice, Piedmont Search and Rescue,  VA State Police,  Louisa, Spotsylvania, Caroline,  Town of Ashland, VA Game and Inland Fisheries ( The Game Warden)  There were horse mounted units and at least 4 helicopter crews.  All of it fell under the VA Dept. of Emergency Management , which usually takes the lead in any crisis that pops up in our state.  VA requires GSAR teams to to hold certifications that demonstrate a proficiency in GSAR on a "field team"   Field team members go to the GSAR College in Hampton Roads near  the Langley Air Force Base.

  What we don't have into play enough is "cross-training"  Existing resources don't generally know enough about another resources capabilities.  Like if a Cessna crashed in the woods somewhere near you, do you have a Point of Contact to call the Civil Air Patrol?   Do you have a an "MOU" or memorandum of Understanding existing between your agency and another for mutual aid or is it something that you just assume?  

  I know that not everyone is going to have the same set up as we do here in VA. We have some pretty stringent rules of engagement on GSAR here for the most part. Probably some of the toughest rules in the country on it.   I had wanted to ask about it,  just to see what folks think about GSAR?

First off, I'm not familiar with the term GSAR. In my world, it's only known as USAR. Maybe this is what you are referring too? It sure sounds like you have more resources available than you know what to do with. For my department and most out there, I don't think you have a choice here. We practice search and rescue techniques on structure fires or any incident that involves finding and rescuing people. CERT training is now commonplace and includes components of light USAR.

Even in situations like yours where you have a lot of trained resources, to not be able to dovetail your resources with others to perform these functions is silly and embarrassing should you end up watching others do what you should know how to do... For untrained departments that don't embrace an all risk policy, my personal opinion is that you really should not pick and choose what kind of calls to be prepared for. You can't always guarantee mutual aid will be available should a large scale disaster occur.

We all need to be prepared... Failure to prepare is preparing for failure.


Santa Barbara County Fire Department, California

In our jurisdiction GSAR is a very separate, specialized function conducted by those trained in its intricacies.  The FD might be called upon to provide logistical support and many volunteer firefighters are also volunteer GSAR team members, but organizationally we are separate.  GSAR has developed very specialized practices and resources which the typical firefighter would simply not be familiar with - and vice-versa.  That does not preclude cross-training, which is common, but proper training and exercising is key.


In reply to Mike Schlags comment regarding the FD having to be prepared to do everything, obviously he has a different mindset than I do. We absolutely participate in and depend upon mutual aid for fire fighting - and most other aspects of the myriad types of incidents we attend.  USAR and GSAR are two very distinct specialties which have nothing to do with firefighting, and we are able to support these specialist groups, but not initiate them effectively.  In this era of limited resources, without mutual aid we would be absolutely ineffective.  At one point there may have been enough resources for one FD to do everything for every incident, but those days are long gone.

Chief Canning,  

Geographical and socio-economic needs between where you work and my world are yes, vastly different. Unless we call for mutual aid from state or federal resources, we have to deal with whatever is thrown at us. This means that we have specialized teams or groups of folks trained to do the myriad of things that we encounter.

While I am not familiar with the term GSAR, nor have seen it's implementation here on the West coast, I disagree with your observation that USAR has nothing to do with the fire department. USAR teams dispatched to disaster sites have always been comprised of firefighters. Maybe I'm missing something here but who else is out there, excluding the military performs Urban Search and Rescue?

There are USAR teams located all over the country, and it appears that all the members are fire department personnel. The DMAT teams of course are staffed by medical professionals as well as fire department personnel. You can see and validate what I am sharing chief by going to FEMA's USAR site by clicking here.

My department, being a large county fire protection district has the resources and personnel to effectively initiate these (IA) initial attack operations, but as you pointed out, none of us can do a good job without depending on mutual aid. So, respectfully chief, those days are not long gone for some of us because tag... we're it.


With all due respect, I did not say that GSAR and USAR "...have nothing to do with the fire department..." but rather that they "...have nothing to do with fire fighting,"  The point I was trying to make (perhaps not very effectively) is that the mindset that a fire department can be all things to all people is rather outdated, at least here in eastern Canada.  For example, my department provides extrication services for our own jurisdiction and three neighbouring fire service jurisdictions.  You might say that results in a delayed response to those areas, however they are not able to muster trained personnel to handle that task, so we 'specialize' in it and offer it in mutual aid.  One of these neighbours, on the other hand, has become specialists in supporting air supply so we don't have to focus on that and receive that in mutual aid from them.  Another has many members working in the farming industry so they can 'specialize' in providing personnel during day-time work hours when very few of our members are in the community.  This is the essence of mutual aid in our area.  As you can see, it is the salvation of the rural volunteer fire service.  It just happens that GSAR responsibilities have evolved to a group of volunteers who wish to 'specialize' in that and we work in mutual aid with them where appropriate.  USAR is obviously not a big issue in rural communities, but if we did have a large structural collapse (IE. a large school) we would certainly call on an agency (FD or other) with some USAR capabilities and training as we simply could not mount an effective effort independently. 


In summary, mutual aid is absolutely essential in our jurisdiction; do the things that you can manage and promptly get help for those things you can't - and know where the difference lies.

Yes, there are many fire dept.across the country that do.
I think what happens it that the local police and fire depts are called first because it may only take just a few minutes to a hour to find someone. If it takes longer then GSAR or USAR  groups are called next if the person is not found in certain time period.

First off have the fd personnel been properly trained in GSAR? The area you live in should not dictate if you do it or not but it should be on if you have been properly trained to do the job. Would you want someone going around a structure breaking out every window in a structure when you are trying to set up PPV? No, because you are defeating the purpose. With sending people out in a search area that have not been properly trained you are in essence doing the same thing. A person that has been properly trained is not actually looking for lost person but we are looking for clues that will lead us to the person. When you send untrained people out then you are destroying the clues.

Next GSAR is totally different that USAR and interior SAR. GSAR or Ground Search and Rescue may also be refered to as wilderness SAR. This takes on some of the aspects of mantracking. If you every watch Boarder Wars you will see the Boarder Patrol Agents engauging in aspects of GSAR and Mantracking. They are looking for the clues, i.e. foot prints, discarded items, ect., that will tell them that a person or persons has been in that area, what direction they are going, ect.

USAR or Urban Search and Rescue is also known as collapsed structure SAR. This is entering into a collapsed structure, once is has been stabilized, and searching for and rescueing those trapped inside.

Interior Search and Rescue is different altogether that the other two mentioned above which all should be aware of what this consist of.

There are other forms of SAR such as dive, confined space, high angle, ect. Each with it's own specialized training.

As one person pointed out the fd will have to be called for the Rescue part of it. I will have to disagree with him. If you notice it is called Ground Search AND RESCUE not search and find. A properly trained team will be trained in the Rescue aspect of it as well as the search part of it. This includes some basic first aid.

Here in Kentucky there is a 24 hour GSAR class that is available through the Local Rescue Squads/Emergency Management. There is also a 24 MSO or Managing Search Operations class and a class on IC which I think is about a 16-18 hour long course. Each county is required by state law to have a Search and Rescue Coordinator. One problem that I have seen over the years is a person took the GSAR class 10-12 years ago and has not had any refresher training since and still thinks that they are proficent in this field. Sorry but if you do not get any type of refresher then you are not staying proficent in the area and in my opinion you are no longer trained in that area.

If your state does not have GSAR training class then I would suggest that you Google Ground Search and Rescue Training for an area to start looking at to get training in this area.

My back ground in this field is 22+ years with the Henderson City/County Rescue Squad where I currently hold the possion of Chief.

I searved with the Area 3 Search and Rescue Team where I held the position of  Assist. Team Leader. This team has disbanded since each county now has thier own GSAR team. I was with this organization for right at 16+ years. This team covered, as it's primary response area, seven counties in Western Kentucky. We had also been called in to Southern Indiana on a few occansions and other counties outside our primary response area in Kentucky.

I have been appointed as the Hendrson County Search and Rescue Coordinator for Henderson County. I also serve as Deputy Director for Henderson Emergency Management



In addition, the SUSAR system has even more Type I USAR teams than does the FEMA system.  They are trained and equipped to the same standards - they just do it with state funding rather than with federal funding.


There are also many other Type II and smaller USAR teams that are funded either at the state or local level, or some combination.  South Carolina is an example, with one state-funded Type I team and five regional Type II teams.  The Type II teams get a mix of state and local funding.  Most of the members of the Type I teams are firefighters or firefighter/paramedics.  Virtually all of the Type II teams are made up exclusively of firefighters or firefighter/paramedics.


My team (SC-RRT-4) is an example.  Unless you're a firefighter with basic firefighting, EMT, and rescue/extrication credentials, you can't even apply to be a team member.  The basic skill sets are just too important.


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