The Dartmoor Rescue Group was founded on 17th February 1968 at a meeting in Tavistock called by Bill Ames, then Area Youth Officer and warden of the Dartmoor Centre for the Devon Education Committee. In due course DRG became affiliated to the Mountain Rescue Council. Prior to the group's foundation, arrangements for search and rescue on Dartmoor depended on the Police being able to find sufficient experienced people to form a rescue party.
The need for a regular Dartmoor rescue service emerged as the result of increasing numbers of calls for help on the moor and the constant threat of a serious incident, such as an aircraft crash far from a road or a large party needing help in bad weather. For example in November 1967, about 100 young children were stranded in Princetown by snow and had to be rescued by the Royal Marines using their 4-wheel drive lorries. A short time before getting into Princetown, the children had been walking on the moor. Had the snow come sooner and more heavily they might well have become victims of Dartmoor's notoriously unreliable weather as the rescue facilities available at that time were problematic and unreliable.
Experience showed that whilst the trained and equipped individual member was the foundation of any rescue effort, the association needed an internal structure for its efficient organisation and also to acquire some major pieces of specialised equipment for group use. Radios and special stretcher were the most important items. These things were very costly and members were hard put to raise the necessary funds but, fortunately, voluntary donations were forthcoming and in 1973, the Dartmoor National Park Authority undertool to pay an annual grant of £500, which went up to £750 in 1978.
The first section based in Tavistock was soon followed by a second in Okehampton, another in Yelverton and a forth composed of firemen and dockyard employees in Plymouth. The later two gave way to a Plymouth section and a forth Section formed at Ashburton. The problems of organising a base from which to start rescue sorties and the controlling of operational groups in the field made an additional Base Section necessary and this was based in Tavistock.
Early experience of operating as an organised group, perhaps divided into several separate search parties, showed the essential need for good communication. For example, there was a frustrating episode when a search party could not be called back before it dissapeared over the horizon and spent many hours searching for somebody already found. Pyrotechnic signals of various kinds were tried but, mainly because of generally poor visibility, they proved unreliable. They were also very costly. Whistles and signal lights too proved useless and so, despite misgivings over cost, it was decided to purchase "some radios". Those grew to around 30 - 40 by 1978 in number and had a replacement value of around £2,000 at 1978 prices. Types included Pye Reporters, Cambridge, Portaphones, Westminsters, Motophones and Bantams.
In 1978, the group owned and maintained 2 vehicles, an ambulance / crew bus based in Plymouth and a Base Communications Vehicle.
Currently the Group consists of four Search and Rescue Teams (SART) based in Ashburton, Okehampton, Tavistock and Plymouth. Each team is a separate charity and is capable of functioning independently. The teams frequently operate together and so each team is part of the Dartmoor Rescue Group which is a separate charity and which co-ordinates common training, equipment and communications issues and is the main contact point for outside organisations.
Each team will tend to work in its own geographical area but may need to work anywhere on Dartmoor to support other Dartmoor Search and Rescue teams. Depending on the number of people who require rescuing or the area to be searched, a callout may consist of one, two or three teams and usually at least one team is kept as a back up in case of an extended operation. DRG teams provide a search and rescue service in the rest of Devon and Cornwall and may be used to support the Cornwall and the Exmoor Search and Rescue teams, as well as at national major incidents such as flooding.