Search and Rescue

Getting to Know Your Local Search and Rescue Team

Search and Rescue (SAR) teams aim to locate, stabilize, and extract individuals from dangerous situations in the outdoors. The majority of SAR teams consist of unpaid volunteers who dedicate their own time and funds for training and rescue missions. Each team has specific training requirements that volunteers must meet. Still, it is not uncommon for SAR volunteers to be certified EMTs and Wilderness First Responders. Many are experts in more specific areas like swiftwater, alpine, and avalanche rescue. Currently, there are at least 1,500 unique SAR teams in the United States.

Volunteers come from all demographics with a wide variety of experience ranging from military backgrounds to personal outdoor recreation experience. They all have at least two things in common: a deep commitment to their communities and the ability to excel under pressure. 

Here in Montana, our backyard is in the backcountry. There are endless opportunities for recreation, wildlife viewing, and solitude, but a fun day hike can quickly turn into a dangerous situation, even for seasoned locals. We're all thankful for the commitment and dedication of the Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue team for helping to keep our community safe.

Some form of a search and rescue team has existed in Gallatin Valley since 1986 when the commissioner first recognized it as an official team and started allotting taxpayer money to fund the organization. A lot has changed since then. The SAR team now consists of about 150 volunteers and three full-time employees, with a waitlist of about 200 people interested in joining the team.

"It's incredible the amount of time these volunteers dedicate to training and missions to make our community a safer place."

Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue is a division of the Sheriff's Office specializing in rescuing lost, stranded, or injured community members and bringing them home safely. GCSSAR is Broken into three sections —Big Sky, Gallatin Valley, and West Yellowstone, and is currently run by Commander Scott Secor, the first captain assigned as a full-time division of the Sheriff's Office. 

Many of the search and rescue teams across the country use a jack-of-all-trades approach to training, with all volunteers being competent in each type of rescue, but GCSSAR does things a little differently, with each person specializing in at least one type of rescue — alpine, heli, avalanche, swiftwater, atv, snowmobile, or medical. The heli and swift water teams, in particular, require a lot of risk management— it's essential that all of the volunteers are experts in what they're doing," says Secor.

Volunteers for GCSSAR go through extensive training, both in and out of the field. Trainees are deployed alongside seasoned members responding to lower-risk situations where they're able to gain real experience. "It's a system much like that used for firefighting or law enforcement," says Secor. 

The abruptly changing weather can lead to serious consequences if you're not prepared as we head toward winter. "People get caught off-guard with temperature changes and wet weather," says Secor. "Making sure to pack extra clothing for layering this time of year, as well as a headlamp, can save us a lot of rescue missions. We get a lot of calls this time of year from people who have run into unexpected weather."

Commander Scott Secor's Pack List:

 Charged cell phone

GPS/Satellite device/Beacon


Warm/dry layers

Extra food/water

When in doubt, Secor says to call Search and Rescue earlier rather than later. "If it's 5:00 pm and you think you're lost, don't wait until it's dark to call us." To activate SAR, call 911 just like in any other emergency. 

"Montana's backcountry is still a very real danger and something that people need to respect," says Secor. "With the fast-changing weather and extreme conditions here, it's easy to get caught off-guard and find yourself in a bad situation.

"I give so much credit to the men and women who volunteer for search and rescue; they drop what they're doing at a moment's notice, whether they're at work or with their families, and deploy to the backcountry to try to save a complete stranger," he says. "It's incredible the amount of time these volunteers dedicate to training and missions to make our community a safer place."