Where do I start?

In all cases, make sure of 2 things:  1) ANY training you invest your time and money into provides you (and your K9 or equestrian partner) with a state or nationally recognized certification!  Many people are knowledgeable and can “train”, but only a few can certify.  Certification is what matters.  2)  Get as far away from anyone or any program which tells you their way is the only way!  The ONLY single absolute in SAR is safety. Beyond that, there are many ways to accomplish the same goal. You need to consider having as many perspectives and diverse educators as you can have.  Having a strong connection to a particular instructor or program is fine, but stay alert and open minded.  Closed minded and ignorant people will misguide you.

Your first step is to get trained as an individual SAR asset. This is the foundation to all other training and specialty work you will get into.

If you have not already done so google search FEMA IS (Independent Study) courses.  They are free and very easy to walk through.  We recommend you do 100, 200, 700, and 800 as a base. These are required by most fire and EMS departments for their professional staff.  Most SAR teams also require these, so might as well get them out of the way and learn some basic framework.  It certainly provides more credibility to you when you arrive on scene with credentials similar to what other professionals have, helps you assimilate more seamlessly.  You can get started on these today from home without any further preparation; (be sure to print a copy of the certification they provide at the end of the course).

If your goals are not to be in a field environment, but to support a SAR event from staging, signing personnel in/out, or other non-field positions, consider NASAR’s (National Association for Search & Rescue) ISAR (Introduction to SAR). This can be done in a classroom setting or on-line. It will provide an introductory overview of what SAR is, but does NOT prepare the individual to go out into the field to carry out SAR operations.

Education specific to SAR, NASAR’s FUNSAR (Fundamentals for Search and Rescue) is the educational class which prepares you for field work.  It prepares you for the SARTECH II (Search & Rescue level 2) practicals examination. The SARTECH II is a field operations level certification, the entry level recommended for anyone who plans to participate in the physical field environment during a SAR event. The combination of FUNSAR and SARTECH II is a very solid, nationally recognized, platform for you to be ready for field deployment.  Many ground teams and some K9 certifications require this basic level for the handler before their K9 can be certified.  Trained ATV and equestrian teams often require similar foundational training too.

Further training you should consider will be some level of first aid training.  We recommend a minimum of no less than First Aid and CPR.  We encourage people who have the interest to be in the field environment to consider a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder level or higher. It is entirely possible you may be the only medical provider to the victim/patient for a long period of time until they get transported/carried in a litter to an access point where local fire and EMS can receive patient care from field personnel.  Either way, be sure to get at least first aid and CPR trained to treat your own needs or those of your teammates; (see the first aid VS wilderness medicine VS remote medicine topic below). 

Why do I need formal training to volunteer to help at a search?

The best answer for this question is answered by Mr. Chuck Hayden of Kent County Search and Rescue, in Kent County, Michigan.  He is a well trained and very informed individual in the SAR community.  Go to this link and see what he has to say on the subject:  http://www.kentcountysar.org/home/spontaneous_volunteers
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What is the difference between FUNSAR and SARTECH II?

They are different and separate from each other. FUNSAR is an educational class to prepare you for the SARTECH II (Search and Rescue Technician Level 2) examination. The SARTECH II is not an educational program, but a written exam and 6 field practical stations to independently test the candidate for competency in their skill sets in a wilderness setting. When a candidate passes the exam, he/she receives the status of being a certified SARTECH II.

I have a K-9. How do I get him certified?

One of several prerequisites to get your dog certified for SAR work is to first be a certified SARTECH II as a handler. NASAR has extensive training standards and prerequisites you can review at their web site.

Is FUNSAR required or can I just try to take the SARTECH II exam?

No. You can challenge the SARTECH II without taking FUNSAR. We caution you, however, and suggest you ponder a couple of questions before making this decision: 1) Have you taken any preparatory courses for the exam? or, 2) do you have multiple years of organized Search and Rescue experience coupled with a strong hands-on understanding of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS); and 3) do you have very good navigational skills using only a map and compass (i.e. no electronic navigational devices)?

If not, we highly encourage the FUNSAR class as we find people who simply challenge the course with no prior preparation have less than a 50% pass rate for the exam; (this includes hunters, backpackers, and persons with military experience). It is totally up to you and we will respect your decision.

How do I register for a class?

Go to the calendar on our site. If there is a course listed/scheduled on the calendar, there will be information there on how to register. If you do not see a course listed you may be interested in taking, contact us at b-e-r-t-s@att.net. Let us know the name of the course and any other information or questions you may have.

Where can I purchase a 24 hour “Ready Pack”?

The larger question is, “Is there a vendor that has standardized the 24 hour ‘Ready Pack” and first aid kits making all items available for a single purchase at one time?”

We are not aware of any SARTECH ready-made kits for purchase. To be honest, it would be self defeating to purchase ready-made stuff. You need to build your own. Here is why.  The best first aid kits we have seen, from the most basic to the most advanced have been built by the user him/herself; (this includes professional EMS ambulance crews; each station/department builds their own kits). There are so many options and they need to be personalized. Ready-made kits are good, foundationally, but they often have extra this/that which may be neat, but not the best use of space and carried weight in a SAR environment. Further, they may be missing some essentials the person really likes/prefers. It is expensive to purchase ready-made vs building your own too; In many cases 3-5x more expensive and you still have ‘stuff’ you don’t want/need & still have to purchase some items not included in a ready made kit.

As for a 24 hour ready pack, same concept applies. There is no one size fits all. The closest thing is the minimum equipment list NASAR puts out. It is up to the individual to individualize his/her pack in a manor which meets their own likes and dislikes. Some people want name brand stuff and others can only afford lesser $$$ items which still meet the need. Personal budgets dictate this a lot. Additionally, and for the same reasons, the type, color, style, manufacturer, and other factors go into what type of pack a person wants to use; Some want internal frames others external, still others want military style Molle tactical packs.  Regardless the style, packs range from $45-$750. Some like to carry more than the minimum gear on NASAR’s list while some can only physically handle the weight of the minimum; (i.e. K9 handlers have to carry their load plus everything for their K9 certification requirements and still travel nearly 2-3x faster than typical ground pounders following their 4 legged partners). This is the ‘base’ 24hr ready pack. When you start moving into technical aspects of SAR and more advanced levels, your weight increases dramatically. Example: When I made the upgrade to SARTECH I / Crewleader, I had to increase my medical supplies and add rope. This added a lot of weight.  Not because a few more band aids weigh that much, but because as a pre-requisite to the advanced level, I had to have advanced level 1st aid. As a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) I had to add many medical items not on NASAR’s list to be able to provide services to the level of my medical scope of practice (legal issue). When I became a Wilderness-EMT, more stuff and more weight to be able to meet scope of practice. Additionally, I had to add rope which is over 10lbs /100′. I have 150′ because I am also Rope Rescue certified. This means I have to be able to perform to the level of that certification too. In short, I cannot go out using a standard SARTECH II 24 hour ‘ready pack”. I have to carry the gear which allows me to be ready to perform my assigned duties.

If it were as easy just getting “one off the shelf”, someone would have already had them out there. Trained personnel understand there is no such thing. Your Ready Pack and First Aid kit will be a continually developing and changing item as your SAR career goes on, you learn more skills, seasons change, and your SAR environments change (i.e. mountain vs flatlands, snow fields vs flood zones, etc).

Registration Information

Do I need to wear a helmet? Which one…there are so many???

This is going to be up to your own organizational protocols.  However, if head protection is warranted, our personal and professional recommendations regarding head protection for ground SAR and other taskings are the same as it is to all of our students from all across the country.  Not because we have superior wisdom or training, but because we have done research, asked people – paid and volunteers- in the industry, field operators and technicians, manufacturers, and wholesalers, distributers, and safety directors in multiple fields of rescue work.  As result, the following is our recommendation:

1)  Must be a helmet, not a hat – and capable and designed to sustain and protect from more than a single impact from multiple directions and angles.  Must be designed for all day wear and comfort.  (review references (1) & (4)).

2)  Must be rated per recognized certification relevant to SAR type workMountaineering rated (review all 8 references below):
a)  CE EN 12492MUST/REQUIERED  – standard rating for mountaineering helmets.  [requires twice the vertical energy of the EN397

Industrial standard].  It is also rated for lateral, dorsal, and frontal impact of falling mass, (i.e. hit from any side/angle).  (review references (1) & (4)).

b)  EN397  – strongly encouraged – standard for industrial strength helmets.  [Co-certified with CE EN 12492].  (review reference (2)).

c)  UIAAstrongly encouraged – Only ‘globally recognized’ standards for mountaineering equipment.  (review reference (3)).

d)  LT – Low Temperature – strongly encouraged.  We see temps below 20 degrees for several months in Ohio.  We need protection to meet this environment where slips and fall potential increases.

e)  ANSI z89.1-2009 Type I Class Cwe do not recommend this as a mandatory critical criteria;  (review references (1)(2)&(4)).  We see this as a good concept if there is going to be USAR or light USAR type tasking, but otherwise it is not a requirement or needed where it does not provide the level of protection needed in a wilderness environment.  An active MRA team is trying to go away from this sort of rating, especially Type II ratings.  Most technical rescue teams in a wilderness environment do not use this as a sole-standard; although there are a couple of helmets with the standard CE EN 12492 & EN397 which have the additional ANSI z89.1-2009 too.

3)  Must be vented.  We have a responsibility to be proactive and prevent or reduce heat related injuries by personnel who are working harder than normal, wearing backpacks, and working in extreme conditions.  Some models offer vent closures for wet or cold conditions.  (review references (6)(7)&(8)).

4)  Chinstrap should be mountaineering helmet type – They are designed for all day comfort of wearing; not an aftermarket clip/add on style that would go onto a hard hat.  Mountaineering chinstraps withstand higher forces than the E397 rating to prevent breaking and slipping forward or backwards as an aftermarket style which clips onto a helmet as an extra accessory item.  In short, it keeps the helmet in place where it should be;  (allowing protections from multiple angles of impact).  (review references (1)(4)(6)(7)&(8)).

5)  Must have head lamp strap capability built into the helmet for commercially available lamps from stores such as Wal-Mart, Cabela’s, etc. ($12-$25 per lamp (i.e. more disposable) vs $45 per lamp and up for hard hat specific lamps which are heavy and bulky).  While there are aftermarket clip on clip options, they can fall off and become lost, thus rendering the helmet useless in dusk or dark working situations.  (see references (6)(7)&(8)).

6)  Highly recommended that adjustable retention system(s) be of a wheel design, adjustable with gloves on to reduce distraction and safety – in all temperatures, all conditions without removing gloves (PPE) of leather, medical, or insulated cold weather type.  (see references (7)&(8)).

We feel we need to look at some standards which not only meet our need, but also reflect the status quo in SAR universally across the country and internationally.  There are a couple of helmets which typically appear to dominate nearly every helmet search on google, top magazines, gear suppliers, and web-sites which sell SAR specific gear.  We are not naming them here, as this is not intended to sway any opinion to one given helmet or manufacturer.  However, the SAR industry offers a very narrow selection of helmets when it comes down to putting head protection as the priority in determining helmet selection.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Resist suggesting only 1 model and 1 color.  While it is a neat uniformity concept, in the long run it may prove to be an act of futile vanity.  Whatever is new, popular, and best today will be replaced by a “new & improved” model next year.  You won’t be able to maintain uniformity but for a moment.  Getting something today will not guarantee new membership coming on board 6, 12, or 18 months from now will be able to get the same item.  Thus, there will always be different types, styles, and brands.  Additionally, many members on teams have already purchased head gear which meets and/or exceeds their current certified and recognized training standards.  Duplication of service in having to purchase another helmet does not make fiscal sense of membership’s personal resources.

Therefore, our recommendations to address this are:

1)  Identify safety certification specifications which you will require as an organization.  You can recommend a given type and color for all future purchases.  However,

2)  Allow membership to determine which brand, model, and style fits his/her own personal budget; as long as they meet established certification specifications.

3)  Grandfather anyone who already has a helmet meeting the required protection standards.

4)  Have a common, standardized decal set for the helmet.  Regardless style, manufacturer, or color, it will still produce a common uniformity.

In conclusion, look like a professional.  If you want to be perceived as a professional in the SAR world, do not show up looking like a CERT team volunteer or construction worker.  Show up wearing gear and PPE other professionals are wearing.  Not only will you look like professionals, you will be protected at the level you perform at AND have the respect of the professionals you are called to assist.

Reference and supporting materials: 

(1)  http://www.satrappeguide.com/EN12492.php

(2)  http://www.satrappeguide.com/EN397.php

(3)  http://www.theuiaa.org/upload_area/Safety/Standards/Safety-Standards/UIAA_106_Helmets_March_2013.pdf

(4)  http://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/newsitefiles/eAWeb2013/Iss43/HeadsUp.pdf

(5)  http://www-materials.eng.cam.ac.uk/mpsite/short/OCR/helmets/

(6)  http://ex.com.ua/manuals/tablica%20kaski.pdf

(7)  http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Climbing-Helmet-Reviews

(8)  http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/climbing-helmet.html

How does my SAR organization host training in our town/city?

It typically takes 6-8 months to plan and set up courses which take more than one day, (i.e. 2 day or 2 weekend type events). To host an event we require a minimum of 8 students. All fees and expenses will be paid by the host agency. Mileage is calculated based on the current governmental allowance and meals are based on your local per diem. Lodging will be factored in as well. When you contact us, we will provide you with a written quote for you to review.
NOTE: if you only have a few people in your area and cannot produce 8 students, let us know. We have people contacting us weekly who want to join a class. We may be able to help. Just ask.
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Is this the course to get me or my K9 ready for SAR work?

Write us at b-e-r-t-s@att.net and let us know what you want or need. It may be best for you to give us a little idea of who you are and what your goals are. We can try to answer your questions from there.




What problem needs to be solved? How to expand “manpower” with limited personnel in remote, hard to access areas…on a budget.


The professionally trained volunteers with the David Thompson Search and Rescue Team in Libby, Montana introduced the staff of Buckeye Emergency Response Training School, (BERTS), to the “Passive SAR Box”. Libby is tucked into rugged mountain country and, like many teams, manpower is not always plentiful and…not every responder has the mobility of a mountain goat. The terrain limits access by traditional means of motorized assistance, thus requiring improvised methods to still execute SAR operations for the weekend warriors and mountaineering enthusiasts. Enter the “Passive SAR Box”, a device which can be utilized in many ways, limited only by your imagination. As such, we will give some examples only to start provoking your own inventive ideas.

What is it? The basic principal is a sturdy, water and animal proof container that has limited life-saving contents and information. The box can be of varying materials, but it has been found a .50caliber ammo can meets the specifications and capacity to meet the needs of most teams. Some teams may have a budget permitting a pelican type case. No matter the type of box, it should be painted or purchased in a bright color contrasting with natural colors and have reflective tape on all sides, including the bottom; (animals do get curious and may nock them over). There should be clear messages written on the sides, “Stay with the box. Do not move from this location”. “Use the contents of the box”. Other messages can also appear on the box, (see photos as example). Each box should be numbered or have an independent I.D. of its own to help identify it once deployed. For example, box 1 placed at camp site Pine Ridge, box 2 placed at intersection of River trail and Look-out cliff trail, etc. The box should be of a size and weight that one or several can be carried in a backpack for time and distances common to your potential area of operation.

Inside the box should be a list of the boxes contents and some basic directions for some items. Note that picture demonstrations should also be considered in case of language or reading barriers. A brief list of instructions, (see below), should also be included. These can be taped to the inside lid of the box so they are quickly observed upon opening. You may even want to put SAR event tailored information in a Zip-lock baggie in the top, inside, with a photo(s) of the missing person(s) with information of what to do or who to contact “if seen”.

One thing which cannot be stated strong enough is there are NO maps or navigational tools, (i.e. compass or GPS), supplied. We want the person(s) to stay put and not move from the location of the box. The box will have some basic first aid supplies, water, food, shelter material/tarp, fire starting materials, rain/wind protection, and a flashlight. A list of the box’s content and directions are included below.

A “PVC” section antenna is in the box so that it is a complete and portable unit. The antenna should be erected upon placement. The antenna can be affixed by using zip ties or by having old bicycle inner tube sections pre-screwed or riveted to the canister; (rubber should produce a seal to maintain waterproof). A number of attraction devices can be utilized on the antenna which can elevate the attraction to about 4ft above the box. These devices will dependent upon your budget and need. They can range from a chemical “snap” light stick, to a dog collar strobe light, to a higher dollar strobe, and/or a device which emits an audible signal, (i.e. chirp). Attraction in light and/or dark conditions is the key.

When a person(s) becomes reported as unaccounted for, the Passive SAR Box can be deployed to likely areas where the party has the most likely probability of encountering it. An example might be an established camp where nobody is present when SAR personnel arrive or trail crossing/intersections or campsites suggested by a known itinerary. The possibilities are limitless. The box is a tool which might substitute the need for a human resource. It will require human resources to check on all deployed boxes at intervals determined by the Incident Command. It may, however utilize fewer human resources while helping to contain a missing party to a known location if it is discovered. The use of air support may be utilized in deploying a box, (i.e. helicopter), or quickly taking visual checks of box locations by fly-overs. In poor or dangerous weather conditions, the box continues to serve its intended purpose without having to risk human resources unnecessarily. It may even be left in its deployed location for several days until it is safe and/or resources become available to retrieve.

The printed list of contents we have in our Passive SAR Box are:


Passive SAR Box contents:

– Strobe to attract attention of person(s) wandering by (might be best fiscally to substitute with chem light stick)

– 4 piece PVC tower/antenna for attraction light device. One or more should have reflective tape – 1 road flare (15min. to fit into box) – flint & steel fire starter

– 15 waterproof matches in water proof container (medicine bottle and zip-lock bag)

– lighter (windproof best but expensive)

– fire starting material (5 starter logs/sticks)

– 1 long burning candle (9hr)

– 1 flashlight (durable – mini mag-light, or LED for longer life)

– extra bulb for light, if not LED (in handle of mini mag-lights)

– extra batteries for light – 2 bottles water – 1 commercial mil-spec MRE’s or one homemade (Tuna, Power bar, drink mix spoon)

– shelter material 10’x12’ (i.e. tarp with instructions and drawing/photo)

– 2 large leaf trash bags – 30′ 550 cord – small folding knife (inexpensive)

– 2 towelets (wet-ones or alcohol type for cleaning & first aid)

– add 1 Israeli or similar trauma dressing

– add 1 cravat (sling material)

– 1 foil space blanket

– add 2 chem light sticks (one for attraction other for victim to utilize)

– 2 hand warmers (1 set)


It may be necessary to modify your contents to meet your special geographical needs. Some regions may be extremely dry and having fire starting tools or flairs may be more harmful than helpful, and you may elect to remove them. Perhaps an extra water bottle might be more necessary and better use of space. In some regions where communication towers or airborne repeaters, (i.e. onboard aircraft), may be “in play”, placing a portable radio or telephone can be added. The idea is not go overboard but to utilize tools to help locate and sustain a party until trained help can arrive.

The printed instructions taped inside our box are:


Passive SAR Box Instructions:


1) Stay here with this box. Do NOT leave. We will check this location often for you. If you leave, we may not find you. Stay here.


2) Use the contents of this box as needed to eat, drinking, build shelter, and fire for warmth, treat injuries or wounds as best you are able: (see 4 & 5).


3) Finding this box means there is an organized search for you. Professionally trained teams with medical and other specialized training will come back here to assist you. Stay here.


4) DO NOT BUILD FIRE if conditions are dry and unsafe. If conditions are wet, road flare may help start fire of wet wood and grasses.


5) If wet conditions, use large trash bags for rain poncho by making face hole before putting over heard. Other bag can be used to protect you from damp ground. Stuff it with leaves and grass to make pad and insulate you from cold ground.


This is not intended to be a complete survival guide. It is intended to provide persons in need with basic information and instruct them to “STAY HERE” and let them know help is on the way. Keep it simple.

It has been suggested that a Passive SAR Box be developed as an off-the-shelf ready-to-go product. It could be done. However, like a pre-packaged First-Aid kit, the concept sounds good but they can be costly, have many items you don’t want or need, and still not have other items you do want or need. Therefore, you will likely find that building your own Passive SAR Box will be both more cost effective and be tailored to meet your own specific, identified needs.

The Passive SAR Box is not the end-all solution but it may be an economical tool in the overall outcome of a SAR event. As much as the information in this article is meant only to present a concept, we hope it provokes more discussions and idea’s to share among the SAR community.

(“Contents list” and “Instructions” lists are available in word format upon request (no need to re-invent the wheel.  contact us as b-e-r-t-s@att.net).

First-aid VS Wilderness medicine VS Remote medicine…what is the difference?

First-aid VS Wilderness medicine VS Remote medicine…what is the difference?


Many thrill or solitary seeking enthusiast likes to leave the urban settings and head off road to remote areas.  Campers, canoers, kayakers, mountain bikers, backpackers, hunters, mountain climbers, Scout troops and other organized camp programs.  The list goes on and on.  What happens when the fun turns into an emergency?


First-aid is the first, initial aid rendered by the first person on scene to a person who is ill or injured in some way. Typically, the steps of care are along the lines of: 1) CHECK the status of the patient; 2) CALL 9-1-1 or similar emergency number to initiate EMS; and 3) CARE for the patient until EMS arrives in a matter of a few minutes to the exact location of the patient and takes over patient care and transports them to definitive care at a hospital.


Wilderness medicine is geared to help the first responders understand and master the basic and advanced principals of modern medical practices and interventions at a given level of training.  In addition to the typical knowledge utilized in an Urban or Suburban setting to assess and treat a patient, the wilderness first responder is trained to “think outside the box” and improvise with all available resources immediately available to provide treatment interventions, stabilize and provide specialized packaging and evacuation of a patient who may be one or multiple hours from common means of transportation to or arriving at a definitive care center, (i.e. hospital).


Remote medicine is designed to pre-plan, prepare, and bring as much definitive care equipment and trained personnel to a remote location to treat a patient on site rather than having to evacuate them to a definitive care center, (i.e. hospital).  It is essentially taking trained medical professionals outside of the sterile emergency room or clinic and placing them in the remote location(s).  As with Wilderness medicine, improvisation within scope of practice and under established medical protocols may be required.


Buckeye Emergency Response Training School…”BERTS”…is not the know all/end all. We take search research and theory, best practice, real world experience and put it into a structure for the student to use effectively both as volunteers and paid professionals. We use a hands-on approach to help you learn and be able to apply your skills. One advantage to the BERTS program is having two or more Instructors with advanced level search and rescue training who are NASAR SARTECH I’s, Wilderness-EMT’s or have other advanced wilderness medical training.   We bring multiple levels of SAR and real world perspectives to the classroom beyond the book. We are prior military, backpackers, and hunters. We are trained as professionals in emergency and public service disciplines such as Law Enforcement, Firefighting, EMS, Social Work, Rope Rescue, Swift Water Rescue, Underwater Rescue/Recovery, Lost Person Behavior, HAZMAT, SAR Incident Command, Public Education and Higher Education.  This is provided only to let you know our program is more than a “couple of guys” who simply regurgitate what comes from a book.