About Cal-SAR

What is Cal-SAR?

California Search and Rescue (Cal-SAR) is a volunteer search and rescue team based in the San Francisco Bay Area. We respond to searches throughout the northern half of California from the Fresno area to the Oregon border and east to Nevada.

Operating under the direction of the State of California Office of Emergency Services, Cal-SAR consists of members who volunteer their services and time to the citizens of California. Cal-SAR is a Charter Member of the Bay Area Search & Rescue Council, and serves as a SAR and training resource throughout California.

What makes Cal-SAR different from other Search & Rescue teams?

Unlike most search and rescue teams, Cal-SAR doesn't operate in just one county. Instead, we are deployed to help other counties and SAR organizations throughout Northern California at the direction of the California Office of Emergency Services.

Additionally, we specialize in operations where members can respond to a deployment request on a hours notice and deploy as self-supported resource for 72 hours anywhere they are needed. (in essence, backpacking without returning to a basecamp.)


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California Search & Rescue (formerly California Explorer Search & Rescue or Cal-ESAR) grew fom the Explorer Program of the Boy Scouts of America. This co-ed program is for ages 15-20, and is designed "to promote the ability of boys, young men and women, to do things for themselves and for others, to train them in Scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues."

Post 12 was chartered in 1969, and is sponsored by the San Mateo Elks Club. Members 21 years and older serve as adult advisers for the Explorer Post.

Each Explorer Post has an area of specialty or emphasis. Some of the more common ones are: police, fire, aviation, railroading, emergency medicine, seamanship, outdoor adventure, and search & rescue. In March of 1972, Post 12 decided to change its emphasis from Outdoor Adventure to Search & Rescue (SAR). At that time, Explorer SAR (ESAR) units were virtually unknown in California, but had been active and thriving in the State of Washington since 1955. To get more information, a group of members contacted the Washington ESAR coordinator to find out what the program was all about. What resulted was two years of intense organization and training, with assistance from Special Forces and Green Beret units. 

In 1974, Post 12 became the first certified ESAR unit in California, and adopted the name of San Mateo Explorer Search and Rescue, or SMESAR. SMESAR began responding to SARs and performed other public service activities from that time. In 1986, Post 12 changed its name to California Explorer Search & Rescue, or Cal-ESAR to reflect its change of affiliation from the County of San Mateo to the State of California Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento. In doing so, Post 12 became the first and only ESAR unit in California that has a statewide area of response.

In the years that have followed, Cal-ESAR has assisted in over 200 SAR and community service missions, and has responded from one end of the state to the other. Some of the more publicized missions include: the Loma Prieta Earthquake, Oakland Firestorm, Vietnam Babylift, Polly Klaas, Jason Rother Search, Yosemite Forest Fire, Papal Visit, First Aid Support, Sandra Cantu, and Xiana Fairchild.

Cal-ESAR members also teach classes for the community at large on a regular basis as a form of community service, and as a means of preventive search and rescue. These classes include First Aid, CPR, Hug-A-Tree, Wilderness Navigation, Outdoor Survival, Amateur Radio Training, to name but a few.

California Explorer Search & Rescue's mission is three-fold, namely:

The activities we've pursued during the last 20-some years have all been directed towards these objectives. We hope that if you are interested, you'll join us in our journey, and help us to write the next chapter in the history of Cal-ESAR.