Search and rescue worker

Mountain rescue worker, cave rescue worker

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Search and rescue workers are volunteers who help lost and injured people to safety from mountains, rivers, caves and coastal areas.

Salary range: Variable

How to become a search and rescue worker

You can get into this work through:

  • a college course
  • volunteering
  • applying directly

College

You can do a college course in outdoor education, rock climbing or first aid to learn some of the skills you’ll need to join a rescue team.

You’ll still need experience in hill walking and map reading if you want to volunteer for a team after completing your course.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for these courses vary.

More information

Volunteering and experience

You can volunteer to join a search and rescue team. They hold recruitment days during the year, which involve going out with team members who assess your suitability for training.

You’ll be expected to have experience in hill walking, reading maps and using a compass. You’ll also need knowledge of the rescue team’s operational area. Other skills like climbing and first aid will be useful, though not essential.

If you’re selected, you’ll be given training over a 12-month probationary period. It will include:

  • search and rescue skills
  • first aid
  • casualty and stretcher handling
  • survival techniques
  • navigation, GPS and radio communications
  • working with helicopter teams

After 12 months, your colleagues will decide whether you’re ready to join them as a full team member.

Direct application

You may be able to apply directly if you’ve got a lot of experience of search and rescue work, for example from serving in the armed forces, acting as a specialist rescue worker in industry or working as a firefighter.

You can contact individual search and rescue teams to find out more about how to join them.

More information

Career tips

You’ll be expected to commit a certain amount of your time each month to training and call-outs.

You’ll also have to supply most of your own equipment, which must meet the rescue team’s safety standards.

Further information

You can find out more about becoming a search and rescue worker from Mountain Rescue and the British Cave Rescue Council.

What it takes

Skills and knowledge

You’ll need:

  • a desire to help people
  • knowledge of public safety and security
  • sensitivity and understanding
  • the ability to work well with others
  • the ability to think clearly using logic and reasoning
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • physical fitness and endurance
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device

Restrictions and requirements

You’ll need to:

  • be over 18 years of age
  • have a good level of fitness
  • have a full driving licence
  • be able to swim

You’ll also need to live close to the rescue team’s operating base, usually within 20 to 40 minutes by car.

What you’ll do

Day-to-day tasks

Your day-to-day duties may include:

  • responding to emergency call-outs
  • handling rescue dogs to find casualties
  • giving first aid to injured people
  • guiding lost individuals or groups to safety, for example off a mountain
  • working closely with other rescue teams, emergency services and air ambulance
  • searching for missing people in urban or semi-urban areas
  • securing forensic evidence at potential crime scenes
  • checking and maintaining equipment
  • taking part in fundraising events
  • giving talks and presentations on what your team does
  • attending regular training sessions to keep your skills up to date

You may take part in river, floodwater or cave rescues if you’ve had specialist training.

Working environment

You could work in remote rural areas.

Your working environment may be outdoors in all weathers and physically and emotionally demanding.

You may need to wear protective clothing.

Career path and progression

You could specialise in particular rescue methods, like swift water and cave rescue, or take on responsibility for rescue dog training or vehicle servicing.

With experience, you could become a rescue team leader, operations co-ordinator or training officer. All positions will be voluntary.

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