The Marin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit started as Explorer Post 74 in 1970, oriented toward ecology and outdoor education. In 1971, we were the first scouting group in Marin to accept females into our program. During the mid 1970’s, several members attended a scouting conference in Washington State and learned about Explorer Search and Rescue, youth search and rescue teams in Washington State. They returned and quickly convinced the rest of the group to change the focus to search and rescue.
The team was first sponsored in 1976 by the Red Cross. During that time we assisted with the Orphan Airlift at Hamilton Field of Vietnamese children and many first aid events. In 1978, Advisor Sam Posner worked to change sponsorship of the team to the Marin County Sheriff’s Department, and the unit began to respond to its first search and rescue missions.
During the early years with the Sheriff’s Office, the unit responded to several large SAR missions, including an overnight search for two missing children in the hills above Inverness. The team also worked several challenging incidents searching for the victims of the Trailside Killer between 1979 and 1981. A total of seven hikers were killed on Marin Trails during this time. The unit also was heavily involved in disaster operations during the great flood of 1982 and lesser flooding disasters in ‘83, ‘85 and ‘86. During this time, we also assisted in investigations for numerous evidence searches.
In 1988, the unit found itself floundering with few members and realized it needed to revamp the program to keep up with the greater demands. In late 1988, with fifteen new members, we began our efforts to make the team more professional. We revised and expanded our training with the help of CAL-ESAR, Sonoma SAR, and several influential, outside instructors. We also responded on our first mutual aid search to Sonoma County in December 1988.
In 1989 we responded to 18 missions, three times more than in 1988. We began to get recognition of our new capabilities, both from agencies within Marin and surrounding counties. While the youth program continued to be central to the team, we recruited additional adult members and established a new management structure to provide more continuity for the expanded mission of the unit.
Today the unit has 70 members and is well known throughout California as being an excellent SAR team, capable of carrying out a wide spectrum of missions from high altitude rescues to searching for victims of predator abductions. Youth members have made the vast majority of life-saving finds in recent history and remain an important asset to our team. The unit enjoys the strong support of the Sheriff’s Office, ensuring that the team has the best equipment and training available.
In 2002, we started the quest to become a fully certified team of the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA). After nearly two years of intensive training and three challenging tests, we successfully passed and became one of the elite teams of the MRA. In 2006, we hosted the International Mountain Rescue Conference at the Headlands Institute in the GGNRA, bringing search and rescue experts from all over to train together in advanced technical rescue systems. Every March the team is tested to maintain our MRA certification.
Today the team also trains and is well equipped to respond to Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) events, such as rescues in light frame construction buildings. We also have four members on the Marin County USAR Team and three members on the Marin County Water Rescue Team.
Marin Search and Rescue has developed cutting edge curriculum in the areas of search strategies for victims of abductions and also integrating wilderness search and rescue teams into California’s earthquake response. Marin members worked on several committees developing State OES typing guidelines. Marin Search and Rescue maintains our unique qualities of maintaining a large youth component. Whether a new member is 50 or 15, the opportunities for training and advancement are the same, allowing youth members to respond and participate in all aspects of the operation.
We estimate that over 1000 people have served their community through this unit since the early 1970’s. Many dozens of people’s lives have been saved by team members. Many more people have been saved from great hardship and pain. We have in our archives over a hundred letters from families and allied agencies thanking us for a job well done. Every member who has been a part of the team over the years has contributed to our success. Recently the team has been responding to over 50 missions per year as far away as Del Norte County, San Bernardino County and Yosemite National Park.