Search and Rescue operations have been a part of Whatcom County history since 1955, when
Bellingham Mountain Rescue (BMRC) was established. From 1967-1970, the Whatcom 4 Wheelers, a
group of unaffiliated volunteers, were helping the Sheriff’s office with searches in Whatcom County.
In 1970, Whatcom County Search and Rescue (WCSAR) was established. This early group consisted of
the Search and Rescue Council, the Women’s Search and Rescue Auxiliary (SARA), Explorers Search and
Rescue (ESAR), BMRC as well as the 4×4 unit. The units met at the Whatcom County Courthouse, and all
equipment was kept at the homes of individual members.
In 1982, permitting began for construction of a WCSAR building on the Smith Road site. In 1984 the
initial structure was finished. The building was constructed and housed by the 4×4 Unit, ESAR and SARA.
The building was paid for with funds donated by various businesses in the community, and work was
completed by WCSAR volunteers, with support from various family members. The materials for the
kitchen, offices and work room came from a drug seizure in Sumas. The Sumas building was dismantled,
and the salvage materials were brought to the Smith Road location. In 1986 BMRC joined the other
units at the WCSAR building and the WCSAR council was unified under one roof.
The current SAR building, located at Northwest and Smith Rds, was built and paid for by SAR volunteers in the 1980’s. WCSAR has retained ownership of the building, and occupied the site under a lease since 1984. That lease expires in 2054.
In 1987, the Whatcom County Search and Rescue Council was established as a 501c3.
In 1997 the storage bays on the east side of the building were expanded. The expansion was paid for by
a donation from the Edward Kawagina Memorial Fund.
In 2001 the Boat building was built with funds donated by the 4×4 unit.
In 2003 Summit to Sound (STS) was established. ESAR was disbanded in 2010. To date, WCSAR consists
of the SAR Council, STS, 4×4, Mountain Rescue, WECG, Snowmobile Team and Dive Team. The Council
serves as the administrative umbrella for WCSAR, and each of the units are uniquely trained and
equipped to handle a variety of conditions and provide support to the community.
Whatcom County Search and Rescue is a resource utilized by the Sherriff’s Department, as well as other
local emergency service agencies. All volunteers with WCSAR must complete a background check, as
well as meet minimum core competency requirements set by Search and Rescue Volunteer Advisory
Council (SARVAC) and endorsed by the State Department of Emergency Management. These Core
Competency requirements are based on the requirements outlined in WAC 118-04. In addition to
meeting the minimum training requirements, individual units have their own training and fitness criteria
to ensure that all responders are ready and able to safely respond when called. Volunteers are not paid
for their services, and are responsible for purchasing their own equipment and supplies, as well as pay
for the cost to respond – food, fuel, time off work, etc.
Common duties of WCSAR include traditional search in wilderness and urban environments, wilderness
body recovery, wilderness first aid and pack-out of injured hikers and hunters, urban searches for lost
children or dementia patients, evidence search, and scene safety. WCSAR also provides safety patrols
for events like Ski to Sea and the Lake Whatcom Classic, as well as education to schools and other
organizations. In addition to the traditional search, rescue and recovery activities, WCSAR has played a
key role in past years during events that include flood rescue, delivery of PPE and food during the
pandemic shutdown, severe weather transportation assistance for critical emergency and hospital staff
as well as patients needing life sustaining treatment, and condition monitoring and situation reports
during extreme weather events.
Earlier this year, the WCSAR Council was informed that our building will be torn down to make room for
a new County Planning and Public Works facility. WCSAR immediately went to work to scout for a new
location and began soliciting donations. It is our hope that the County, as well as the community, will
help us in our fundraising efforts to build a new WCSAR facility and ensure that we can continue to serve
our community in years to come.