Written by guest author John Traylor, RAD Coordinator and IST team for KCSARA


“Unable to walk, quarter mile down from the top of Cableline trail, 37 year old female.” A hasty team will grab some first aid gear and, after a quick briefing with the Incident Commander (IC), head up the trail. Their mission: “plug holes and hold still”; and wait for the rest of the teams to show up and pack the “subject” out. That pretty much sums up the work of a special King County Search and Rescue unit called the Rapid Alpine Deployment Team or simply RAD. (There are a few wounds that are life threatening, and those are usually big “holes” dealt with quickly and simply by plugging them in any way possible.   “Hold still” takes care of the other big issues and is mostly aimed at cervical spine immobilization.)

When the first call comes in, RAD turns their truck in that direction. The Incident Commander collects the information available, pulls out maps and phone lists, and starts to make a plan. In minutes, a special team of Search and Rescue (SAR) members is at the trailhead and has begun to climb the trail. Most SAR members will just be getting the call and starting to respond from home. This team has been waiting for the call, with their packs and gear ready, boots on, maps in hand. This isn’t a random group of overachievers or bored backpackers. They are prepared to respond.


search and rescue
©Michael Cline

RAD operates on weekends during the summer months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, to reduce Search and Rescue response times and prevent SAR calls. The RAD team provides a quick response to most of the key trailheads along the I-90 corridor from Issaquah to Snoqualmie Pass. RAD is made up of members from eight specialty units within King County SAR. The members are all volunteers, providing their own equipment, time, and commitment. The primary focus of RAD is to reduce callout times by putting our boots on ahead of time. Since more folks reach the mountain areas during the summer weekends, RAD patrols during that time. They have also been used for special events. When not responding to calls, the team will cycle through the various trailheads and “sell SAR” as well as good backcountry behaviour.  We want to create teaching moments for individuals, kids, and their parents. We hand out 10 essentials cards, space blankets (a MacGyver of rescue tool, see below), and maps to create an initial discussion. Then we answer whatever questions they have.

[Editorial: I asked John why he likes those silver emergency blankets so much:  “I love those silly little space blankets.  My trail running kit is a roll of 2″ adhesive, a space blanket, and a micro multitool.  It signals, wraps, warms, cools, has pretty good tensile strength for ties, holds water/snow, can act as a tarp or poncho for shade or rain cover.  I didn’t even get into its normal use in a hypothermia wrap.  In short, way cool.  Twist a knee and it can be wrapped to cool or support the injury.  Typically, when someone sustains a substantial injury, their thermo-regulation gets goofed up, part of going into shock.  Even in the summer, I’ll throw one on a guy with a broken ankle. He’ll feel warm and cozy right off, which leads to less perceived pain, less angst, happier time for all.  (Though it doesn’t make him any lighter to carry…) and they’re mosquito proof,  slide well on snow.  They’re good for an occlusive dressing, weigh and cost nothing.”

All great points. Maybe I’ll pack 2 next time.]


search and rescue
©Michael Cline

40 minutes up the trail Team 1 has found the subject:

“Highpoint Command from Team 1. We have hands on the subject. Subject is cognizant and breathing normally. Standby for short report.”

The RAD team has an easily described role in this mission. As long as the subject has read the script, it is easily accomplished as well. Plug holes and hold still. The team is responsible to quickly access the subject, safely. Their first decision on the scene of the incident is whether they put themselves into a more dangerous situation. After they safely access the subject, they perform vital first aid and get the scene and subject settled down. They are not a transport group. They treat the subject’s wounds and may have to stabilize the injuries with splints or simply hold the subject still.

For SAR members, one of the nice things about RAD is its scheduled SAR participation. Most SAR callouts occur when everyone is settling down, back at home after a day hike or soccer game. That’s when the pager goes off; that’s when they saddle up, pull the boots on, stuff some energy bars in their mouths, and head out to the call. The calls come in most frequently as evening falls; it is sometimes years before SAR members see in the daytime the trails they hike most frequently. With RAD, the schedule is noon to 8pm Saturday and Sunday, unless they get a call that runs on into the night. We do what we do to help people in need and because we love the outdoors. Sense of satisfaction at a well done rescue and positive impact is our reward.

The calls come from 911, from Eastside Fire and Rescue, and from people at trailheads who saw something. The public becomes an extension of the SAR response since they (YOU) are out there in the woods, seeing the folks around you. Knowing sooner rather than later there is someone having trouble on the trail shortens the time they are in pain or lost. It improves the chances that they will be found before things get worse. If you see RAD at the trailhead, stop by and say “Hi”, grab a 10 essentials card, and make a donation to the cause at KCSARA.org/donation.


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