Frequently Asked Questions

The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) address basic questions you may have about the Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group (SFSAR) and search operations in general.

We recognize this is a lot of information coming at you at one time. So, if you have questions, there are several ways to get help:

  • Telephone your SFSAR Membership Committee “sponsor.”
  • Contact any of the SFSAR officers listed at the end of this FAQ Sheet.

1. What does SFSAR do?
We provide trained teams of unpaid volunteers for wilderness searches for and rescues of persons who are missing, injured or lost. Such searches may be conducted on foot, in 4-wheel drive vehicles and on skis and snowshoes. All missions are officially called for and supported by the New Mexico State Police and are under the supervision of a trained volunteer incident command staff.

2. What skills are valuable to SFSAR?
Members enjoy outdoors activities such as hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, skiing and mountaineering. Also, SFSAR can use valuable experience in amateur radio, off-road driving and medical or nursing fields.

3. How will my skills be used? How can I contribute to SFSAR?
There are a variety of ways you may contribute to the team and to the community. For example, you may:

  • Participate in a “ground pounder” team searching on foot, snowshoes or skis,
  • Be part of a technical team to rescue people who are injured, or
  • Drive a four-wheel vehicle in support of the search.

Or you might participate in operations at the command center, also called Incident Base. In this capacity, you may be involved in radio communications, mapping and tracking of search teams or finding and coordinating various types of search resources.

4. What does a typical New Mexico search entail?
Incident Command staff will decide what teams will be needed and in what areas they will search.

Search teams will be given assignments based on the strength and fitness of the team’s members. Team assignments may involve hiking between five and ten miles and can be up twelve hours long.

Many searches involve hiking at altitudes of over 9,000 feet.

The majority of our missions are in the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains (to the east and west of Santa Fe respectively). Occasionally we are asked to participate in missions in other areas of New Mexico. Many searches are initiated in the evening and require searchers to be active in the middle of the night, both in the summer and winter and occasionally in stormy weather.

5. Do I have to be a real athlete to participate?
No, that is not required. But, since there could be some strenuous hiking involved—often in the mountains—it’s important that members be fit and capable of reasonable endurance. And, remember, if hiking is not your thing, there are other ways you may contribute.

6. How often does SFSAR meet?
The team meets in Eldorado monthly on the second Thursday. The meetings typically include addressing business issues, reviewing recent missions, discussing details of upcoming and past trainings and conducting a brief classroom training. These meetings are usually two hours.

7. What training is available?
In addition to the monthly classroom training, SFSAR has a team field training once a month, usually on the third Saturday. These weekend field trainings focus on the various skills that are important in search and rescue including:

  • Navigation (map, compass, GPS) Radio communications
  • Search techniques
  • Technical rescue skills
  • Medical assessment

Also, when you become a new member of SFSAR, you will be assigned a Mentor who will help answer your questions, assist you in determining clothing and equipment you may need, help with some of the technical details and provide general assistance during your first year.

8. When can I go on my first real mission?
We know how excited you will be about getting out on that first real mission; after all, that’s why we exist. But, we want to ensure our team members are properly trained, prepared, equipped and dressed for the elements. Therefore, we ask that you complete the requirements listed in Section 11 under “Being Included on the Calling Tree for Missions.”

Once these requirements are met, your name will be added to the “calling tree” — a telephone list used to contact members to inform them of a mission and solicit their participation.

9. But, what if I can’t make a mission or a training session?
We understand our members have family and work obligations. As a result, we don’t expect them to attend every meeting, training session or mission. But, remember our objective is to field trained teams, which requires a time commitment of our members.

10. What other things must I do to prepare?
Generally in your first year, we require you to become certified by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. This Certification involves taking a short written test on a variety of search-related topics, demonstrating basic use of the compass, and having your equipment checked for completeness (see equipment listed at FAQ 16). Much of your preparation will come from SFSAR training sessions and the Certification study materials the Group provides.

11. Could you provide more insight into the requirements for membership and moving up through the SFSAR organization?  

Any person wishing to join the Group will attend a monthly Group meeting and be assigned a Sponsor. The Prospective Member will fill out an Application and Self Assessment form and meet with the Sponsor. Advancement to Associate Membership shall take place no earlier than after participation in a Group Hike or where appropriate another organized event approved by the Executive Board and at the second Group meeting attended by the prospective member, and shall require a simple majority of the Active members present.

There are two primary membership levels: Associate and Active Member. After you become an Associate Member, you become eligible to participate in official missions by your inclusion on the “Calling Tree” (see FAQ 8). Later, as you become more skilled, you may wish to become a “Team Leader” of a mission search team.

The requirements for reaching these four levels are summarized below:

Becoming an “Associate Member”

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Submit an Application and complete the Self Assessment Form (in the membership packet)
  • Meet with a Membership Committee  Sponsor
  • Attend two SFSAR monthly meetings
  • Attend a social hike or where appropriate another organized event approved by the Executive Board
  • Be recommended by the Membership Committee and approved by the Active Membership
  • Pay the annual dues

Being included on the “Calling Tree” for missions

  • Attend 3 SFSAR monthly field trainings (If the member wants to be considered for winter searches, at least one of the trainings must be a winter training.)
  • Take and pass the on-line ICS 100 and ICS 200 tests
  • Completing the Basic Competency Check List
  • Complete a pack check with mentor
  • Become Field Certified or acceptable equivalent skill or training as determined by the SFSAR Board
  • All of the above must be complete within a six-month period starting when the prospect becomes an Associate Member

Becoming an “Active Member”

  • Complete one year as an Associate Member
  • Within a year:
    • Attend 6 monthly team meetings
    • Attend 4 team training sessions
    • Participate in 3 designated missions
  • Board approval

Becoming a Team Leader

  • Minimum of one year as Active Member
  • Become Field Certified (see FAQ 10)
  • Demonstrate:
    • Knowledge of safety requirements
    • Map, compass and GPS skills
    • Standard search procedures
    • Radio communications
  • Set an example for other team members of proper search preparation
  • Demonstrate basic medical knowledge including first aid
  • Board approval

Your first step is to become an Associate Member by completing the initial steps shown above.

12. What equipment do I need for search and rescue and does SFSAR provide it to me?
You will be expected to have and use a basic safety gear, summer and winter clothing and emergency equipment useful in the wilderness. A core list is provided in FAQ 16.

As a supplement to your gear, SFSAR has team equipment you may use on training sessions and/or official searches: snowshoes and poles, communications radios and their wearable harnesses, avalanche transceivers (radios), first-aid kits, rope, and evacuation equipment for injured victims.

13. What will it cost to participate with SFSAR?
Your costs are in three areas:

  • Annual dues for all members are $48 per year. SFSAR is a non-profit organization funded only by member dues, public gifts and donations and grants.
  • You are asked to furnish your own basic clothing and equipment; however, SFSAR will make every effort to assist new members with finding modestly-priced equipment and clothing to minimize these expenses.
  • You will furnish your own transportation to the meetings and missions. The New Mexico State Police will reimburse the cost of fuel when significant distances are involved in reaching a mission site.
  • Since SFSAR is incorporated in New Mexico and designated by the IRS as a Non-Profit 501(c)(3) organization, you may be eligible to take selected tax deductions.

14. What about insurance coverage?
The Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group does not provide health, accident, or life insurance for its members. The Department of Public Safety does provide an accident and disability policy for Search and Rescue Team members participating in a designated search mission or a sanctioned training—when either has been issued a mission number by the State Police Search and Rescue Resource Officer. Other than this coverage, a Team member must rely on his/her own insurance and resources for medical coverage.

15. Where can I find equipment and clothing if I don’t have everything?
A list of local and national equipment and clothing companies providing reasonably-priced or discounted goods is in the membership packet.

Once you become an Associate Member, you may purchase goods from selected Santa Fe outdoor retailers at a modest Search and Rescue discount. You may also purchase goods at deep discounts from well known national gear and clothing manufacturers; these “pro-purchases” can only be made through a team member who handles such buys for SFSAR.

16. What’s on that list of required basic equipment?
A searcher is expected to carry a pack with enough food for 24 hours, even though search periods are usually limited to 8 to 12 hours. Remember, we operate year round, so temperatures in New Mexico—even in the mountains—can vary greatly from winter to summer, and thus require different clothing.

The list below covers only the basic equipment needed to respond to a typical search; you will probably supplement the list with your own ideas. If you spend much time in the outdoors, you probably have much of this gear already.


  • Hiking boots and two pairs of wool socks
  • Head cover
  • Gloves or mittens for the season
  • Work gloves
  • Poncho or rain jacket with hood (outer layer)
  • Wool, synthetic or silk middle clothing layer
  • Inner layer of non-cotton material
  • Backpack of sufficient size

        Safety/Emergency Equipment

  • Plastic whistle
  • First-aid kit
  • Space blanket
  • Compass
  • Flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries
  • Knife
  • Fire starter
  • Signal mirror
  • Twenty feet of one-inch wide tubular webbing
  • Helmet

        Other Items:

  • Food for 24 hours
  • Two quarts or more of water
  • Pencil/pen and paper

17. Wow, sounds like a lot! Where can I get some help?
We recognize all this could be a bit much. So, as soon as you join, we will assign you a personal Mentor. Your Mentor will help you throughout your first year by answering your questions, ensuring you are receiving the proper training and preparation, eliminating any obstacles and making sure you have fun. We do serious work for our community, but we enjoy ourselves while we are doing it!

18. Where can I go for more information?

You can learn more by:

  • Using Resources and Gear and Equipment Sources lists provided by the Group
  • Calling or emailing one of our Board Members (see the “Board of Directors” page on our website)