Membership Options
Selection Process
Importance of Physical Conditioning
Insurance Coverage
Selection Requirements

To request an application or for more information about the San Diego County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, contact Search and Rescue via e-mail at or at (619) 956-4990.

Applications should be mailed to:
John F. Duffy Administrative Center
Attn: Background Investigations
PO Box 939062
San Diego, CA 92193-9062


The application requires that you select the type of membership program that you feel would be your current goal. Our program is set up to allow you to change to another option along your career path, so do not be too concerned about making a "wrong" choice. Choose the career path that you would be ready to commit to at this time. We currently have three (2) membership options:

  • RESCUE VOLUNTEER: Those persons who wish to apply as a citizen volunteer to become fully field trained for full SAR service. These persons will work alongside their reserve counterparts and receive equal training. They are not permitted to engage in law enforcement activities except under a few (very limited) conditions in support roles.

  • CITIZEN VOLUNTEER: Those persons who wish to apply as a citizen volunteer to provide support types of services only. These persons would not be allowed to enter the field to work with field teams as they would not have the appropriate training. However, there are many support roles that need to be filled in and around the field command post, with the field kitchen service, logistical areas and administrative functions. Even though limited in what they are allowed to do, we consider this category of member to be extremely valuable.
In making your membership selection, be sure that you mark the appropriate place on the application cover sheet so that we will place your paperwork into the right system for processing.

Once selected as a member of Search and Rescue, you can apply for any higher level of training and career path at various times throughout your career experience. As previously discussed, you will automatically be processed first as a citizen volunteer so that we can complete certain initial clearance steps and get you started earlier in your actual involvement. This procedure does NOT cancel out your actual membership choice.


Interested persons shall submit application for the position of Citizen Volunteer - Search and Rescue. The forms provide for the initial application and preliminary background check for both positions. The application will be reviewed first for completeness to ensure that the applicant can meet basic requirements. The applicant will be scheduled for an orientation interview, conducted by Search and Rescue Command Staff.

The individual oral interview will evaluate the applicant's personal characteristics, good judgment, ability to make sound decisions and interest in the SAR program. This process will require a passing score of 70% or higher.

Upon completion of all preliminary selection requirements and being cleared as a citizen volunteer, citizen volunteers will be assigned to the Communication and Training Unit to begin service. Rescue Volunteer candidates will be placed on the SAR academy selection list while awaiting their academy training. These procedures will be explained a little later on in more detail.

It is important to understand that application information and the background investigation could produce reasons for an applicant to become disqualified as a Rescue Volunteer candidate or even as a Citizen Volunteer candidate. This could occur at any time during the processing work-up phase, regardless of whether or not the candidate is already actively involved as an apprentice or enrolled in the academy. Applicants will be advised by e-mail or telephone call of their testing dates, times and other pertinent selection process steps. It is very important for the applicant to keep the Personnel Division fully informed of any changes of address, telephone numbers and other status changes that would affect our being able to maintain contact during the selection procedure. It is your responsibility, as the applicant, to comply with all requests to keep appointments, return paperwork, etc., in a most timely manner.


The Search and Rescue Training Unit coordinates varied training for recruits through the Search and Rescue academy. Total instruction will cover approximately 200 to 300 hours and cover orientation, first aid, search skills, repel rescue support, general field support, man tracking, survival, incident management, equipment and some related law enforcement subjects.

Upon acceptance into the Search and Rescue program, and while awaiting academy training, most of the Search and Rescue Units offer an apprentice training program in which recruits can begin pre-training orientated towards a unit specialty skill. Apprentices can also participate in the field during regular mission activities on a limited basis to gain actual experience. If, as a prospective recruit, you do not know which specialty unit you may want to serve with, do not be concerned at this time. You will have ample time to make a decision by the time you have graduated your academy.

Training is a vital component to the Detail, and is an ongoing process. Besides quarterly field training in which all of the units come together, each unit provides training to keep unit specialty skills sharpened. Every actual search mission becomes, in fact a training ground.


Once the recruit becomes sufficiently trained to enter the field, or serve in support roles, a wide scope of Search and Rescue duties are available. A phone call at 3:00 AM could take a SAR member to any portion of the vast 4255 square miles that comprise San Diego County. The call might be to search for a missing person or overdue hiker, to rescue a stranded hiker, to assist on a wildfire incident, to perform evacuation duty during disasters, or any number of calls in which Search and Rescue skills are needed. We find ourselves often assisting detectives by searching for evidence in homicide and other criminal cases. Search and Rescue also assists the Reserve Detail with certain special events assigned to them, as well as to the regular department on a variety of special requests and services. Rescue Volunteers and Citizen Volunteers can be assured that there will be plenty of jobs to do, keeping the member as busy as he/she wants to be.

SAR members are required to respond to as many mission calls and training activities as possible within reason. We recognize that regular employment constraints will prevent some responses, critical family situations can come about, illness and so forth. Each member must be committed to participate as much as they can to realize the full benefit of serving. Search and Rescue does set forth minimum expected standards to follow which will be explained in your academy. Nearly all duties require that members work while in uniform.


Virtually all costs associated with membership are borne by each individual member, Rescue Volunteer and Citizen Volunteer alike. Compensation comes in knowing that you may have helped save a life. A good feeling for doing your civic duty and self-satisfaction in belonging to an organization whose goals are for the common good of all of the citizens residing and visiting our County. The Department provides your uniform patches, and I.D. card. Otherwise, you can expect to spend upwards to $500 for uniforms, personal equipment and specialty equipment. A few training costs can be expected. If you itemize your income tax return, you can deduct most expenses that you incur as a search and rescue member. Please do not allow costs to discourage your interest - you will have ample time to comply with these requirements.


The statement "the chain is only as strong as its weakest link" holds true for the search and rescue business. Teamwork in the field is our key to success. Those who cannot perform the often required rigorous tasks associated with field function become a liability to themselves as well as the entire team. Physical condition and safety work hand in hand. The physical agility test you will experience allows each candidate to demonstrate a minimum level of fitness necessary to perform the various functions you may be assigned to carry out. Physical agility will be evaluated over the course of your academy training as there are several "field days" involved. Things you will do include hiking endurance, injured person carry out techniques, etc. Evaluation is very reasonable and the average person should pass.


All Search and Rescue members are required to carry personal vehicle insurance according to State law. All members must also carry personal medical insurance or show their ability to meet any financial obligations to receive medical care. While on duty, members are covered under State Worker's Compensation insurance under the Disaster Service Worker Act. The County of San Diego will provide legal representation, at no cost, in the event you fall into litigation as the result of duties you may perform for the Department. The County also provides certain coverage for replacing uniforms and some equipment which may become lost or stolen while on duty.


Applicants will first be screened for acceptance as Citizen Volunteers which is a short process. From that point, the applicant will choose to either remain in the citizen volunteer category, or advance to becoming an academy candidate to graduate as a rescue volunteer.

 The following selection requirements have been established:

  • 18 years of age at the time of academy graduation.

  • Must be a United States citizen or a legal alien who has applied for citizenship.

  • Must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate.

  • Must possess a valid California Driver's License and current vehicle insurance or bond, at the time of appointment.

  • Must have medical insurance or proof of ability to pay for medical care separate from any other coverage provided through volunteer membership.

  • Military personnel on active duty must be assigned to the San Diego area for a period of not less than two years.

  • Must be in good physical condition with weight in proper proportion to height. Completion of a physical examination will be required. Citizen Volunteers who are physically disabled may be considered for specific assignment on a case by case basis. Rescue Volunteers who plan to become fully qualified to work on actual Search and Rescue missions will also be required to pass an eight mile hike with a 25 pound pack, in less than 3 hours.

  • Vision must be 20/100 or better, correctable to 20/30 or better in each eye.

  • Must be of good moral character, a felony conviction is disqualifying. Rescue/Citizen Volunteers will have a background check conducted on their status as non-sworn employee.

  • Search and Rescue members must provide their own transportation to and from all SAR activities.

  • Search and Rescue members must have a telephone, to receive calls for service.