Learning the ropes with Far North Search and Rescue July 2020

Test run, using new skills

LANDSAR is a national volunteer organisation which provides land search and rescue services to lost, missing and injured all over New Zealand. Their volunteers operate in suburban, urban, wilderness and rural areas including regional and forest parks, shorelines and caves.


The Far North’s local Search and Rescue group covers the same area as the Far North District Council. They need more volunteers, could it be you?

You work hard, you have commitments, your days are full. How can you possibly find time to volunteer for anything?

If you’re interested in: helping those who are lost, missing or injured; learning new survival skills; leading a fulfilling and active outdoor life; gaining a sense of purpose, and enjoying camaraderie then join this great bunch of people – yes, you’ll be giving time but you will be RESCUING people and gaining a shed-load of new skills.

First, a couple of important points. Let’s start with a biggie! Commitment – you’ll need to be prepared to meet up when needed for call-outs and training; and red tape – all volunteers need to be police checked.

FNSAR members have all committed to the above. They are one of the busiest groups, making over 16 call-outs last year. Many have full-time jobs. They also happen to be a fantastic bunch of people, and I was lucky enough to join them on a training day – learning to use stretchers and ropes.

The FNSAR volunteers meet up roughly once a month (sometimes more) for meetings/training though who knows when they may receive an emergency call-out. The morning I joined them half a dozen volunteers were already out on a search and rescue mission.

This is how it works. The police will call FNSAR, a text is sent to all volunteers for an emergency call out. You respond with a yes you are available and get yourself over to the meeting place; or no, you are unavailable. One of the reasons more volunteers are needed is because there are always going to be times when people are unavailable – teachers, farmers, shift workers – it happens. More volunteers mean more teams of rescuers so the search area can be widened and rescue time is faster.

If you’re thinking you couldn’t possibly be of any help, think again. Induction training includes search techniques, basic tracking and risk management; other LandSAR and in-house courses include GPS, radio, night rescue, basic navigation and First Aid. Training and maintaining training is vital.

Not every volunteer is cut out for field work, and there is a huge variety of other jobs – maintaining equipment, radio operators, fundraising and working on the Wander Search programme. FNSAR do not only look for people lost on tramping expeditions, but also for those who simply go missing from their daily lives – such as dementia sufferers or the elderly. The Wander Search programme provides tracking pendants for those likely to, well, wander. The pendants need updating every 6 months and this involves visiting families.

Dan, our ropes and stretchers instructor for the day, is a volunteer for LSAR in Rotorua. He said that all instructors were volunteers as well as being course leaders. Today our group included people with a wide range of age and experience. Volunteer groups tend to be made up of older folk with more time on their hands, and their wealth of experience is welcomed by LSAR, however this group had a great mix of younger members too.

Our day began familiarising ourselves with the equipment carried on a stretcher rescue, swiftly followed by learning to tie several different knots (my super power girl guide training kicked in here!) We then applied this to setting up a rope system using sturdy trees as anchoring points. Two teams worked together and as was pointed out to me, in a real-life situation you would never be expected to do something you weren’t comfortable with. Once Dan had checked our work and was satisfied with it, he explained that we were going to the top of a steep bank where a ‘patient’ had fallen to the bottom and was waiting to be rescued. Team leaders were appointed, and the work began. Anchor points were chosen, knots were tied, harnesses donned (and hard hats) and with a lot of co-operation and teamwork the ‘patient’ (Dan) was successfully raised on the stretcher to the top of the hill.

It was such an awesome day; I learnt so much and will seriously consider signing up as a volunteer for FNSAR – so get in quickly, before me!

Story by Diana Smith, Volunteer Reporter at Volunteering Northland.