Organized search and rescue as we know it today had its beginnings in Europe. In the United States, Seattle Mountain Rescue Council (SMR) and its founders were leaders and organizers. In 1954 Explorer leaders, including Don Wilson, saw a need to keep older youth involved in Scouting, community service and outdoor safety. From this came the beginnings of King County Explorer Search and Rescue, the first Explorer Search and Rescue organization in the country. SMR members Bill Pitts, Max Eckenburg and Ome Diaber with Scouting backgrounds helped lay the groundwork with the Chief Seattle Council and others. Many within the King County Police, including Major Harold Gauntlett, Lieutenant Bill Stockham and Sargeant Bill Stanley, were also early supporters.

Initially, Scouting did not allow women in ESAR. However, they started a commissary unit 1969 to support missions. Full and equal field status and membership came in 1972.

ESAR's first request for service came in June 1956 from the Seattle Police. The first wilderness search occurred in 1957 for a lost Boy Scout in Mount Rainer National Park and had a happy conclusion. Until the late 1960's, ESAR had approximately 10 missions per year. Since then, 30 to 40 missions have been the norm. In 1996, however, ESAR participated on more than 50 missions over the course of the year. During 1994 ESAR and other rescue units dealt with four separate incidents on the Snow Lake trail in one day. The 1974 Osland-Ott evidence search totaling 13 days and 4,887 hours is the largest to date.

Jim Lomax and Doug Caley, early 1970's
Jim Lomax(middle left), and Doug Caley (middle right) confer with a Whatcom County Sheriff (Doug Gill) in the early 70's. Miles Hanchett is on the left.

ESAR's successful performance and good reputation are, in part, a reflection of the organization's commitment to training. From the beginning, basic outdoor training has occurred in the Camp Brinkley area. Originally, activities were coordinated out of the T-H Ranch (the old red barn). Now, the base is the Brown House (white until 1965). The Course II problem has always been the most challenging component, but its content has remained similar over the years although emphasis on compass runs was reduced to five. Early Course III's included a hike to Echo Lake with a compass run for accuracy at the end. Today's Course III tries to simulate the activities in a real search and rescue mission. Course IV was added in 1995 to include helicopter, crime scene, bloodborne pathogens and first aid training in the basic curriculum.

There was a time when ESAR members had to communicate with field teams over borrowed police walkie-talkies and citizens' band radios. In 1973 we were licensed on low-band radio frequencies (47 MHz) and have used this ever since. Over the years, the weight of the radios has been significantly reduced with technological advances. While "high-tech" has crept into some of our equipment (Gore-TEX, polypropylene, internal frame packs), trainees have always found surplus wool clothing to be the most versatile and functional.

Today ESAR is involved in many different types of missions. These include lost person searches, delivery of first aid, evacuation of injured hikers/climbers, special event support, evidence searches, avalanche rescue, flood control sandbagging, wilderness navigation classes and downed aircraft missions.

Adapted from the King County Field Personnel Operations Manual, 4th Ed.

"Search and rescue is for young, healthy men [and women] who can do what older adults simply can't do physically."
- Exploring Magazine, Dec. 1973

© KCESAR • PO Box 1266 • North Bend, WA 98045