Jim Segerstrom, Swiftwater Rescue Pioneer, Dies

posted February 11, 2007
by Charles Walbridge

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Jim Segerstrom, founder of Rescue III International and a renowned swiftwater rescue expert, died February 5, 2007 in San Francisco, CA after a massive stroke. He was 60 years old. A former river guide and climbing instructor, Jim was the originator of the Swiftwater Rescue Technician program that has been a huge influence on river paddlers and rescue professionals alike.  His work saved many lives.  He later became the Executive Director of Special Rescue Services Group and the Managing Director of a Canadian - US consortium, World Rescue Services, Inc. He was a 25 year member of the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team and continued to respond to emergencies and train instructors until his untimely death. He lived in Sonora, CA, with his wife and son.

Jim graduated from the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California and completed a year of the Masters program in Business at California State University in Sacramento. After two years in commercial banking he traveled in Europe and qualified an apprentice climbing guide in Switzerland. In 1973 he earned one of the first EMT certificates issued by the state of Nevada . Returning to Sonora he purchased an interest in a mountaineering store. He became a commercial guide and head boatman in California and worked as a stunt man for movie companies. He founded the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team, a group noted for their exceptional river rescue skills. In 1977 Jim completed training as a paramedic and EMT instructor. He worked as a full-time paramedic for 17 years and was one of the country's first flight paramedics. In 1979 Segerstrom founded Rescue 3, which quickly gained national prominence for its Swiftwater Rescue Technician courses. In addition to his work in the United States he taught his rescue programs to agencies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Nearly 700 people have become Rescue 3 instructors and Rescue III training has been offered in India, Tibet, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, France, and Austria. The photo at left was taken by Nancy Rigg, the moderator of the Yahoo Swiftwater Rescue group.

In 1989 Segerstrom served in the Working Groups of the National Urban Search and Rescue Advisory Committee to the National USAR Response System, contributing his expertise in wilderness SAR and swiftwater and flood response. In 1995 he helped California Office of Emergency Services create the first statewide swiftwater/flood response system. In 1997 he was activated as a technical specialist during the catastrophic January floods. Although the flood inundated large areas of the state, destroying over 5000 homes and displacing nearly 200,000 people, only 11 lives were lost because California was well prepared.  In 1999 he helped create and train the Texas State Swiftwater/Flood Strike Teams as part of a similar statewide plan. He's a member of the National Flood Response Plan Working Group which has crafted a national flood preparation and response system for the US.

Segerstrom was the author of several original SRT course texts as well as books on high angle rescue and helicopter rescue. He was a frequent contributor to rescue magazines and a speaker at many national rescue and EMS conferences. He won the prestigious Higgins and Langley Award, given by the Swiftwater Rescue Committee of the National Association for Search and Rescue, twice. He was a 25 year member of the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team and continued to respond to emergencies and train instructors until his death. The strong current of Jim's life work will continue to be felt on rivers throughout the world.

Charles Walbridge
Bruceton Mills, WV