THE HISTORY OF PARA RESCUE AND SEARCH & RESCUE TECHNICIANS (SAR TECH’S)
Para Rescue was initiated in 1942 by former World War 1 flying Ace and renowned bush pilot 'Wilfred Reid (Wop) May' OBE, DFC, who is considered the grandfather of Canadian Para Rescue.  In 1940, as a civilian, he was put in charge of No 2 Air Observer School in Edmonton Alberta which was part of the northwest staging route between USA and Alaska. With the attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan in 1941, and the USA joining the global conflict, many young inexperienced pilots were called upon to fly planes over this forbidding northern staging route to Alaska.  Mechanical difficulties, unpredictable weather and lack of navigational aids caused many forced landings in the northern wilderness.  On several occasions 2AOS had become involved with searches for missing aircraft.  Although some of the aircraft were found their pilots had perished.  May found this situation unacceptable as he had participated in many of these northern mercy missions and being the compassionate man that he was decided to do something about it.  He recognized the requirement for and set the wheels in motion to organize an air rescue team.

The criteria for the team, each member must be able to parachute into crash sites and administer first aid to the injured.  This turned out to be the first known organized para rescue team in the world.  In early 1942 May asked for volunteers from his civilian servicing crew whereupon approximately a dozen volunteers lined up and with the help of a stuttering safety system tech were given brief instructions on how to jump from aircraft and pull the 'D' ring handle of their chest pack parachutes.  No reserve chutes were worn and wind drift was calculated by throwing out an Eaton's catalog.  One of the first jumps resulted in a parachutist landing through the cloth wing of a parked aircraft.

It was quite evident that further training was required so in early 1943 May sent two volunteers, Owen Hargreaves and Scotty Thompson to the smoke jumpers school in Missoula Montana to be trained by the US Forestry Service.  The training course was 6 weeks in length and included an indoctrination to parachutes and their function, physical training, practical problems, letdowns (simulated release from a parachute hung up in a tree), proper body position exiting the plane and landing techniques.  After six weeks they returned home with borrowed equipment to train two other volunteers, Wilfred Rivet and Laurie Poulsom.  This equipment included a parachute harness (quick releases were not available at that time), parachute main (28 foot flat circular Derry slot & a 24 foot reserve), a bush suit made out of canvas, 120 foot let down rope and a leather football helmet with a wire mesh face protector.

Although training continued, it was severely hampered due to lack of proper facilities and equipment.  Faced with this situation but determined to achieve his objectives May decided to present his plan to authorities in Ottawa.  Persistence paid off and in 1944 Air Vice Marshal T.A. Lawrence, Commander of the North West Air Command in Edmonton, became interested in integrating this civilian rescue unit into the RCAF.  In June 1944 Hargreaves, Poulsom and Rivet were enlisted as Sergeant Aero Engine Mechanics into the RCAF.  After several meetings and a concept of training requirements, a call for volunteers was made.  Volunteers were to be selected under the following criteria: Age 22 to 30, weight 135 to 165 lbs, sound physical condition, mentally stable, with preference given to those having previous bush experience.  Course duration originally was planned for fifteen weeks but due to weather and equipment delays it was extended to 19 weeks.  Out of the twenty thousand applicants who volunteered, only 12 were selected!  On 12 February 1945 the first military course began.  The training would consist of four main elements: (1) Jump training, (2) Bush lore, survival and mountain climbing, (3) Medical training to the point where Pararescue personnel could give sufficient assistance to keep an injured crash victim alive under radio direction from a doctor, (to-days SAR Techs are being trained and qualified as paramedics), (4) Maintenance of rescue equipment and unit responsibilities.  One must remember that once the pararescue man parachuted into a site, the only way out was on foot to the closest road or lake where they and their patients could be picked up by vehicle, ski or float plane as there were no helicopters at this time.  The graduates would be distinguished by wearing a specially designed embroidered badge worn on the upper left arm of service dress and battledress jackets.  They were deployed to Sea Island British Columbia, Edmonton Alberta, and Dartmouth Nova Scotia.  These activities attracted the local media, and on one occasion, a reporter asked. 'What do you call your section?' After some thought, Poulsom suggested Pararescue.  Since then, the term 'Para' has been adopted by many different types of operations, although the term itself is used in a different context. 

In early1946, as an ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) member, Canada accepted the Search and Rescue responsibility for international air traffic in Canadian territory and oceanic areas adjacent to both the east and west coasts. The responsibility was delegated to the RCAF. (Incidentally, ICAO headquarters are located in Montreal QC). RCCs (Rescue Co-ordination Centres) were established at Dartmouth NS, Rockcliffe ON, Winnipeg MB, Edmonton AB and Vancouver BC to co-ordinate search activities. At present (2003) the RCCs are located Halifax NS, Trenton ON and Victoria BC and are called JRCCs (Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centres) (the establishment in each JRCC includes a SAR Tech). Units employing operational Pararescue/SAR Tech personnel from the beginning to date include Whitehorse YT, Sea Island BC, Comox BC, Edmonton AB, Cold Lake AB, Winnipeg MB, Churchill MB, Trenton ON, Bagotville QC, Greenwood NS, Summerside PEI, Goose Bay NL, Gander NL.

In the early fifties course five and six introduced medical personnel. This included medical assistants, nurses and medical doctors. The graduates were presented with the cloth badge which was pinned on the arm at the presentation ceremony. As these badges could not be officially worn by the officer ranks, they removed them and did not wear any identifying Pararescue badge until the new specialty badge was issued several years later. Cost and time of employing doctors and nurses in Para Rescue was proven not to be practical or cost effective and resulted in a quick end to their recruitment. Further volunteers were selected from the RCAF safety equipment and medical assistant trades.


On 9 June 1954, a new RCAF Para Rescue (specialty) Badge was issued to all graduates and worn by all Medical Officers, Nursing Sisters, and Airmen who had completed a Pararescue Course. It marked the first time that female officers of any Canadian service could wear a Canadian Badge emblematic of aerial operations.

In 1958 Pararescue personnel began experimentation with free fall parachutes, however, as full authorization was withheld by AFHQ Ottawa, it was discontinued in 1962. The 28ft Derry slot parachute (static line deployed) would continue to be in use until the mid to late 60's when it would be replaced by the 32ft TU parachute. In the early 90's a new parachute the CSAR-4 (square canopy) was the new replacement until 2003 when it would be replaced with a new state of the art MS 300 (300Sq Ft Military Silhouette) the CSAR-7, a performance design product from Deland Florida with a Reserve 1smr335 (military square reserve) 335 Sq ft. Last but not least history has repeated itself and SAR Techs are jumping this chute both free fall and static line. Course 36 was completed in June 2003 and became the first course to be free fall qualified upon graduation. 

In 1959 over flights by USAF aircraft carrying nuclear weapons were cause for concern by the Federal Government. In the event of an accident/crash on Canadian soil the Canadian military did not have trained personnel to safety these nuclear weapons or personnel trained to jump into these possible remote sites. The most expeditious and practical way to solve this discrepancy was to train volunteers from the RCAF Munitions and Weapons trade in Para Rescue and in nuclear weapons safetying procedures. They were known as Para Armament Technicians and filled established positions at the four Rescue Units across Canada in conjunction with the other two trades.

Training of Para Rescue personnel after the war years was mainly conducted from the old North West Air Command site in Edmonton AB. In 1961 the training was carried out from Trenton ON. From 1962 and 1997 the training was conducted from the Survival Training School (STS) in Namao. In 1998 the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue (CFSSAR) was established at CFB Comox BC exclusively for SAR Tech training.

In 1968, the RCAF, Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army integrated as the Canadian Armed Forces. As a result and with the issuance of a new green uniform for everyone, a decision was made at NDHQ that forbade all Para Rescue men from wearing the RCAF Para Rescue Badge (as the RCAF was disbanded). For a period of time they were ordered to wear the Army jump wings instead. This eventually resulted in a new specialist badge (without the initials RCAF) and issued to all pararescue trained personnel. Note: Para Rescue was renamed Rescue Specialist (RS) in 1972.

With integration and the adoption of the green CF uniform, the Airforce wedge cap worn as headdress was also gone. The trade representative at Command Headquarters looked into a new distinguishable headdress for pararescue personnel and after much deliberation the scarlet beret was adopted (It had a previous history of honour in WW2 with the famed Devil’s Brigade). It was approved by NDHQ in 1976 and course 15 of that year was the first graduating course it was presented to.

Late 1974 would add another major change and qualification to the trade. It had become obvious that an underwater capability was a necessity for RSs as increasing numbers of marine incidents were being responded to. In typical RS fashion a dive course was set up and run at CFB Comox by two RSs who were trained civilian dive instructors. As the Navy controls all diving in the Military, a team of Clearance Divers were sent from the (FDU) Fleet Diving Unit (P) to Comox to assess the situation. This resulted in a formal dive training conversion course for all (who could qualify) active RSs. Henceforth diving has been a major part of trade training conducted by the FDU at Esquimalt B.C.

Competitive search and rescue exercises came into being in 1965 where each rescue unit would select a team, carry out a specific number of jumps and send in the results to Air Command HQ where the scores were tabulated and a winner announced. In the spirit of 'one-upmanship', one would almost think that the last unit to send in their scores could be the winner? In 1968 the first SAREX (Search & Rescue Exercise) was held in Trenton Ontario where each unit sent a team to compete in various activities like parachuting, supply dropping and best individual performance. The purpose was to exchange ideas, techniques and procedures within the CF Search and Rescue organization. The exercise also provided a forum to promote esprit de corps through competition. In 1972 the USAF Para Rescue men known as Para Jumpers (PJs) joined in and it became an International exercise. In 1975 the USAF introduced a medical exercise event to go along with the other events that were parachute accuracy, supply dropping, search, rescue and aircraft maintenance. The interaction between the two countries was harmonious and beneficial to both and the relationship continues to this day; though the USAF withdrew from the competition in 1987 as their PJ's were undertaking a more combat-oriented role.

In September 1979 Rescue Specialist became a trade and all former Para Rescue trained volunteers were offered an opportunity to re-muster.  Personnel filling operational and staff positions who met the specific requirements accepted these terms of reference and were re-mustered into this new trade which would be renamed 'Search & Rescue Technicians' (SAR Tech's)! With the trade designated as aircrew a full wing was required and designed.  It was authorized in 1982 and issued to all who had re-mustered to the SAR Tech trade. Course 21 (1983) was the first graduating course presented with the new wings. 


It was during a SAREX in Trenton ON in 1989 that the first reunion of the fledgling association known as 'The Para Rescue Association of Canada' was held.  Five years later in 1994 a book 'That Others May Live' was written by a group of enterprising serving and retired Para Rescue men (it signified 50 years of Para Rescue in Canada).  The book was distribution for the 50th reunion held in Courtenay B.C. in 1994. 

In the early 70's with the increasing number of over flights in Canada's north, it became an ever increasing and urgent requirement for ICAO to develop a plan to render assistance in the event of a large passenger aircraft being forced down or crashing in the sparsely settled northern region. In typical fashion the SAR Techs (440 Sqn Edmonton) sprang into action and over the ensuing years were instrumental in developing the plan as well as manufacturing and maintaining all of the air droppable survival kits required which would be used for years to come. It would be called the MAJAID (major air disaster) plan. It became a monumental burden to maintain and it wasn't until the early 90s that the maintenance of these kits was turned over to another department.

Note: Another milestone in the SAR Tech history was that the first female non commissioned member graduated in 1997.

An occupation analysis in 1987 launched the trade into the modern world with trade progression stepping stone qualifications in place in comparison to other trades in the Canadian Armed Forces. New established positions and the rank structure were re-identified. Pay and allowances were also reviewed. Even though it would take another 15 years and a lot of work all of the recommendations were finally approved, but the wait was worth it. Prior to this they were a ragtag group of individuals, who, when some equipment was required, had to improvise, make, scrounge or come by night. (you could say 'there is my Johnny, the only one in step)'. The modern day SAR Techs are the best trained, highest skilled professionals in the rescue business to be found anywhere in the world, doing a task that is difficult and fraught with danger. Members consider it a self rewarding way of life.

As the cold war started to wind down numerous base closures were announced in Apr 1990 with the tabling of the federal budget. CFB Summerside was one of the bases targeted for closure. A controversial study ensued as to where the rescue unit, 413 Sqn should relocate. Greenwood was the eventual choice with operations scheduled to begin in this location by 1 Jul 1991. At the same time it was announced that the CC-115 Buffalo would be replaced by Hercules aircraft on the east coast, as part of the Air Force fleet rationalization program. The program would continue in 1992 with the Buffalo in 424 Sqn Trenton also being replaced. By 1 Jul 1992, 442 Sqn Comox would be the only SAR squadron flying Buffalo aircraft in Canada. The squadron is still flying them today.

The rescue of Boxtop 22 near Alert on 31 October 1991 was the most highly publicized rescue missions in history. The aftermath and subsequent reports of the rescue identified many procedural and equipment shortcomings of the SAR organization. More changes resulted from the crash of Boxtop 22 than any previous mission. These changes directly benefited the SAR Techs with myriads of long sought after equipment being given new priority in the procurement process. Night vision goggles, Sabre radios, global positioning systems, new signal flare guns, supply drop parachute cutaway systems and new environmental clothing were brought into service. The CSAR-4 square parachute was brought into service by the summer of 1992, but it would not be until the summer of 1993 before the new parachutes would be ready for operational use by all units.


On 30 Apr 1992, 442 Sqn Comox were assisting the Bella Coola RCMP search for two lost hikers in some of the most rugged terrain in BC. While one of the teams was being recovered, Rescue 311, a Labrador helicopter crashed, killing SAR Tech Cpl Phil Young for whom the CFSSAR main schoolhouse building is now named.

On 1 Jul 1993, 418 Sqn became the primary SAR Sqn in the Edmonton SRR flying C-130 Hercules aircraft. This was the first time an Air Reserve unit had taken on the primary SAR role and employed operational SAR Techs. This situation did not last long however as in April 1994 the Namao airbase closure was announced. By August 1994 418 SAR Sqn was disbanded, the 440 Sqn Twin Otter fleet was reduced and sent to Yellowknife. The SAR Tech section was reduced to a 13 man section and moved with 435 Sqn to Winnipeg. The SAR Tech positions were not lost however as they were redistributed to other units and used to form the two new SAR Tech sections at Base Rescue Units in Cold Lake, AB and Bagotville, PQ in addition to the previously formed unit at Goose Bay Labrador. These units were subsequently renamed 417 , 439 and 444 Combat Support Squadrons and still have SAR Tech sections.

Another major initiative occurred in 1995, the working rank for a team leader was increased to Sgt. In addition all of the major sections were established for a MWO as the SAR Tech Leader. These initiatives resulted in over 30 promotions to Sgt and several more to WO and MWO, all in all a good bit of progress for the trade. Two years later the automatic promotion to MCpl after one year in the trade was instituted.

As a result of further reorganization initiatives, 18 Wing Edmonton AB. was closed and the air resources moved to 17 Wing Winnipeg in the summer of 1995. As air resources are required for SAR Tech training, Air Command Chief of Personnel and Training ordered a study to determine the most cost-effective way to carry out aircrew survival and SAR Tech training. To reduce costs the Survival Training School was divided into two separate units. The Survival Training School was moved to 17 Wing Winnipeg as part of the School of Aeromedical Training. The SAR Tech School was moved to 19 Wing Comox as the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue (CFSSAR).

CFSSAR officially started business 1 September 1996. It's mission to teach all Search and Rescue Technician training and all CF Sea Survival Training. The Sea survival course is designed to teach all CF aircrew how to survive in the event that they have to carry out an emergency or forced landing into a large body of water or ocean. Courses included; Basic Sea Survival for Multi place aircraft aircrew and Fighter Pilot Ejection seat survival.

The new schoolhouse, the Cpl Philip Lloyd Cyril Young building, officially opened the doors of its training complex on February 3, l998. The school is named in honour of a Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) killed in a CH-113 Labrador helicopter crash on April 30, l992. In attendance on this historic morning were the widow and family of the late Cpl Young.

Another tragic event involved the crash of 413 Sqn Labrador 305 in October 1998 in Quebec in which all six crew members were killed. The accident, still unsolved put a tarnished finish on a long and illustrious life of the venerable rescue helicopter.

The CH-149 Cormorant helicopter was introduced into the CF inventory as the primary SAR helicopter during the period between May 2002 and Jan 2004. In all 15 helicopters were received and have been distributed around Canada as follows: 5 in Comox, BC; 3 in Gander, NL; 3 in Greenwood, NS; 3 in Trenton, ON and 1 Floater for maintenance replacement. The CH-113 Labrador retired from active service on 26 June 2004 from 424 Sqn in Trenton after 41 years of stellar service. The new helicopter, made by Augusta-Westland, an English/Italian company, is a single rotor, 30,000 pound machine with 3 engines, capable of carrying huge loads and generating tremendous rotor-wash. Although there were some initial teething problems bring the helicopter on-line to operational status, the machine is now operating and saving lives across Canada daily.

The new CSAR-7 parachute system was introduced in early 2003, in all over 350 parachutes were delivered to SAR Squadrons across the country. The new parachute system included a 300 square foot Performance Designs (PD) Military Silhouette parachute, a PD335 Reserve parachute and a military CYPRES (Cybernetic Parachute Release System), all in a Military Javelin container. The system is capable of delivering a 325 pound parachutist into any situation in either freefall or static-line configuration. The introduction of this new parachute system resulted in the SAR Tech trade moving into the world of freefall. The entire trade will be freefall qualified by the end of 2006. The program will also see the introduction of new Bush suits and Personal Equipment Carrying systems that will be freefall capable. These new capabilities will ensure that the level of service provided by the SAR Techs will be more universally utilized.

Recent significant changes to the SAR Tech occupation training include the addition of the Primary Care Paramedic (PCP) and the inclusion of Overturned Vessel Extrication training to the basic and supervisory SAR Tech courses. CFSSAR now conducts a portion of the training at the Sea Survival facility at Quadra in Comox. Other major changes include Ground Search Fundamentals, Man-tracking, Ground Search Management, advanced mountain and avalanche rescue programs which have been added to the formal courses.

New equipment procurement is always on the agenda. In the past year, new hard-line underwater communication as been added to the wireless communications and a new life preserver and 1 man life-raft container for parachuting will soon be making its operational appearance. A new parachuting helmet with a jump log audible warning device will soon be coming down the line. As well, a new Altimeter Test Chamber, Sea Rescue Kit and a Hypothermia Re-warming System are in the procurement process.

The 13 July 2006 saw the tragic crash of Cormorant helicopter CH149914. SAR Tech Kirk Noel and 2 Flight Engineers were killed. Four other crew members were injured. The crash occurred in Chedabucto Bay, near Canso, NS while conducting a night training mission, boat hoisting to the fishing vessel ”Four Sisters No.1”. 

We now have 6 Cormorant helicopters in Comox, 4 in Greenwood and 4 in Gander. 424 Sqn Trenton has converted to the CH 146 Griffon helicopter.

In 2006 the occupation of SARTech started recruiting Direct Entry (DE) civilians from the street. This is a 6-year trial to confirm whether or not we can increase the number of candidates for Pre-Selection and if they will be suitable. These candidates are Para Medic personnel who are recruited as SAR Techs off the street and then attend the Basic Military Qualification course (Boot Camp) in St Jean, Quebec. Following BMQ, they are posted to Comox and await SAR Tech-Jr Pre-Selection training, which takes place in Jarvis Lake during Feb-Mar time frame the following year (1-2 months after BMQ). If they pass Pre-Selection and get selected to attend the QL 5A course they return to Comox and await the fall course. If not they are offered a second career choice or their release. As of this update we have the first 3 Direct entries on course and they are set to graduate on 14 June 2008.

The Sea Rescue Kit (SRK), which is a 6-man life raft, has replaced the old 10-man version life raft (SKAD). The SRK has a survival kit and radio and is designed so it inflates once it hit the water in an upright position. In 2007 we replaced the old Scott pump that was used for our parachute drops to ships with a new Honda pump. The new pump is capable of discharging 250 gallons per minute. Some other projects include the new Bush suit that can be used for Static-line or free fall parachuting, replacement SAR Tech tent, new Search and Rescue Personal Equipment Lowering System (SAR PELS), the 190 PARAMASTER helmet and we doing final testing on the Hypothermia Re-warming System (HRS). CFSSAR has received a new Instructor Parachute the CSSAR 7(I). A much smaller version of the operational chute the SAR Techs use.

The Personnel Support Programs Division (PSP) in Ottawa has an ongoing study to develop a SAR Tech Physical Fitness Selection Standard for students.

Arctic SAREX took place in Comox on the 1-5 April 07. It was a very successful exercise and employed the Major Air Disaster kit and the Arctic survival kit from the Aurora aircraft. American and Canadian SAR crews participated in the exercise while Russian delegates observed. Personnel from Health Services Groups also attended. The National SAREX took place in Goose Bay NL from 6 Oct 07 and was a great success.


On January 12, 2010, at 4:53 pm local time, Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, the country's most severe earthquake in over 200 years.  This would lead to the first time a Canadian response to an international disaster needed to include SAR Techs.  Hours later, Trenton's 424 "Tiger" Transport and Rescue Squadron SAR techs, lead by Senior SAR Tech Master Warrant Officer Eric Larouche, Sgt. Dave Payne, Master Cpls. Kevin O'Donnell, Jeff Ferguson and Nic Meunier were en route to Haiti.  They would later be joined by Sgt Hervieux, Steph Richard (he received the first SAR Tech's field promotion while in deployment) and Eric Perras (424), Francois Duchesneau and Janick Gilbert (439 Bagotville) and Rod Smith (444 Goose Bay). 

Because of many years of experience working with a wide array of core skills in medical treatments, a large variety of different background knowledge in rope rescue, search procedures, navigation, communication and most importantly, common sense, patience and down to earth attitude, SAR Techs played a critical role in the recovery of Canadian citizens in Haiti, resulting in the successful location and recovery of almost 200 people in 14 days!

The first week was a very rough week.  Under unprecedented conditions, SAR Techs worked in teams of two, approximately 18 to 20 hours a day.  Dealing without an acclimatization period to adapt, under 40 degrees sun burning heat and without water to wash with or toilets to use they began supporting the Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and worked at the Belgian Hospital OR for two days.  It was a new experience, using different medical equipment, working with very capable hospital staff on people in need exceeding anything encountered at home under normal conditions.  This was definitely a new challenge.  Soon, recommendations from MWO Larouche on SAR Techs employment were briefed to the Task Force Commander through the Air Component CDR and were subsequently implemented.  Before long, SAR Tech Teams were dispatched to assist the Canadian Embassy by maintaining an accurate account of the survivors that were to be reached, always ensuring prioritized medical assistance and a speedy recovery (under the circumstances) of casualties.   Working as the Rescue Coordinator in the Canadian Embassy, MWO Larouche maintained constant contact with Department of Foreign Affairs, Immigration Canada, Canadian Border Service Agency and his “new” CoC putting his operational experience into practice.  SAR Techs teams found themselves working with an even bigger network of national and international relief and emergency response teams.  The first 7 days of the mission was dedicated to locating survivors trapped in the rubble of collapsed homes, schools, hotels and offices. They worked alongside CF Fire Fighters and expertly-trained Urban Search and Rescue Teams from countries such as France, Italy, Chilli, Colombia, Brazil, USA, Mexico and Germany to locate people trapped in the rubble.  Further, through an improvised Search and Rescue setup at the airport, SAR Techs were the only one capable to provide 24/7 air and ground SAR Tech response capabilities to the entire country.  They were recognized beyond expectations and in demand by everyone.  More than a month after the quake, aircrews and SAR Techs were still focusing on transferring patients out of Haiti, including to a United States hospital ship, USS Comfort (The Ghost) in the area.

Working in this theatre was an excellent experience.  It’s too early to say if SAR techs will be deployed the next time a disaster like this occurs, but I would be surprised if we are not involved next time (narrator's comment).  This deployment allowed SAR Techs to use core components of our trade, exposed us to many different medical cases in very harsh environments, different types of rescue and most importantly decision making!  We found out that at the end of the day we were the most versatile, the most flexible, the most capable rescue team to do any kind of evacuation, 24/7, from the land, the water, or to a boat.  We learned a lot of valuable information on what to expect and how to prepare but most of all, we definitely taught a lot to CF military people, Canadians and the International Community who SAR Techs are and what we do.
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