Becoming a Search & Rescue Paramedic

A career as a Search & Rescue Paramedic offers the opportunity to provide medical care and recovery in the most unpredictable environments. 

What is a Search & Rescue Paramedic?

Search and rescue paramedics or rescue medics are experts in emergency response and recovery. They provide medical assistance to and remove victims from, dangerous and unpredictable situations. 

When you think of a search and rescue paramedic, you probably imagine them abseiling off a vertical cliff, or making a rescue from a helicopter flying low over the ocean. While these situations can definitely be part of the job, search and rescue skills can be required in a whole range of scenarios.

Search and rescue paramedics have been at the frontline of some of the world’s most devastating disasters like extreme flooding, bushfires, earthquakes, and avalanches. Additionally, they also play a pivotal role in urban rescues involving collapsed buildings, as well as mining and military rescues.

They are skilled at providing medical care and executing rescues within complex environments, terrain, and structures. Often the first on the scene, they must be able to provide all the medical care and reassurance of a registered paramedic.  In addition, they can provide the specialist care their patients may need (for burns or smoke inhalation, for example) while navigating rapidly changing environments.

How to become a search and rescue paramedic

Before specialising as a search and rescue paramedic, you’ll need to have a number of years experience as a registered paramedic.

Studying the HLT51020 – Diploma of Emergency Health Care with Australian Paramedical College can help you build the foundational knowledge and practical skills you need to get on the pathway to university to become a paramedic. With a few years on-road experience, you can continue your studies and specialise in search and rescue.

It’s worth noting that for some roles, you may need to have extensive experience and/or specialist skills related to the industries and environments you plan to work in. This could include: vertical rescue, confined space/trench rescue, advanced driving, navigation, etc.

What industries and situations does a search and rescue paramedic work in?

Search and rescue paramedics can apply their skills to a wide range of industries and situations, including:

  • Urban search and rescue: dealing with structural collapses
  • Natural disasters: earthquakes, landslides, bushfires, floods
  • Military search and rescues, including trench and confined spaces
  • Energy and infrastructure industry, including underground or offshore mines, wind farms

Typical job duties of a search and rescue paramedic

A search and rescue paramedic needs to undertake all the standard duties of a paramedic, as well as specialist tasks relevant to the environment and industry you are working in.

Search and rescue paramedics may need to undertake:

  • Vertical rescues via abseil or helicopter
  • Remote area rescues
  • Road crash treatment and rescue
  • Water rescues
  • Rescues within confined spaces
  • Treatment for burns and smoke inhalation
  • Assessing and treating conditions that affect survival such as hypothermia, hyperthermia, trauma, and acute or chronic medical conditions
  • Maintenance of equipment
  • Chemical, biological and radiological procedures
  • CBRIE – Risk assessments / procedures
  • Recovery/retrieval duties (retrieving bodies)
  • Coordination of search teams and search areas
  • Radio communications
  • Location techniques for finding distress beacons

In addition, you will be required to work closely and collaborate with other rescue teams and humanitarian organisations.

Search and rescue paramedic benefits

A search and rescue paramedic can earn around $100,000 per year working full time, depending on your level of experience, overtime worked in the year and the risk of the situation. 

What working as a search and rescue paramedic could look like

Hear from Erin about the work she undertook during the Australian bushfires of 2019/2020 through the State Emergency Rescue Service (SES).