About Jim Lavalley

  Jim Lavalley, Canada, Recipient: 

The Higgins – Langley, Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award.”.  Presented May, 31, 2013, at the NASAR Annual Conference, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

For the worldwide impact of Jim’s innovative, ground breaking contributions; and the fundamental changes that he has made to accelerate the growth and professional development of Swiftwater Safety and Rescue Operations, around the world”.

This included Jim’s development of new, proven, moving water risk assessment and education protocols, and also his development and application of new designs and manufacturing of specialized Swiftwater equipment, specifically, life jackets / PFD’s; helping (along with many others,) to make “Swiftwater Rescue“, a stand alone, technical rescue discipline, internatinally. 

Jim was the only Canadian, in the history of the Higgins – Langley Awards, when, in 2013, he was awarded this, the committees’ highest, international honor.

Jim, has been an Internationally Recognized / Court Qualified, Swiftwater and Dynamic Ice, Subject Matter Expert, since 1989; and he has been a major creative force and a visionary leader in the development of all fields of Swiftwater, Flood and Dynamic River Ice Operations and Response, for over 45 years.


Since 1972, Jim Lavalley has focused his professional energy in the world of moving water.  During which time, he has recorded over 25,000 + professional, operational hours, (excluding recreational, stand-by and travel hours), in P.P.E., at / on / in / under and over, in the high risk, moving water and dynamic ice environments.

During this time, Jim has also accumulated another 30,000 +  professional, project-based hours; directly involved in researching, developing and testing; operational and rescue protocols, industry Standards, course curriculums and equipment performance; in the high risk moving water and moving ice environments

This included teaching, supporting and defending agencies, that work in the moving water environments, and their people, in Court, and at Coroners Inquiries.  It also includes managing projects and addressing moving water issues with individuals, clients and organizations, as an International, Court Qualified, Subject Matter Expert, around the world.


The Early Years:  1972 – 1979

Jim’s professional career began working with the ‘Wild Rivers Survey“, a river classification program, for National Parks Canada, canoeing and classifying wild rivers, that were used as the transportation routes by the fur trade, across western Canada in the past.  This work was done in the late springs and summers of 1972-73 by amd was led 

This was followed by a 6 year career as a professional expedition river guide, trip leader, and company operations manager, working primarily on the large volume, free running rivers in British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Alaska; and also on the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers in Ontario / Quebec; and on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in Arizona, to mention a few, from 1974 to 1979.

During these years, Jim worked for Canadian River Expeditions (Northern and Western Canada and Alaska), the American River Touring Association (Colorado River) and with Wilderness Tours (on the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers).  

Jim attended Carleton University, in Ottawa (Bachelors in Biology and Economics) from 67 to 73.

In the winters from 74 to 78, Jim was a member of the Canadian National Bobsled Team, representing Canada at the World Championship and the Olympic Games, as the brakeman on the Canada 1 team, in both the two and the four man bobsleds.

From the late spring, to the early fall, in these years; Jim paddled and rowed rafts, and ran motorized rafts and boats on some to the highest volume, AWA Class 3-5, free running, rivers in North America, including the Fraser River,  through Hell’s Gate, the Chilko River (through the White Mile), in BC, the Alsek / Tatshenshini  / Stikine and Sheena Rivers through BC, the Yukon and Alaska. and the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers in Ontario / Quebec; among many others


The Middle Years: 1980 – 1989

In 1980, Jim (L) co-founded Hyak River Expeditions with Jim Scott, guiding 1, 2, 6 and 10 day, oar and paddle rafting trips on rivers in BC, the Yukon and Alaska. 

Jim L and Jim Scott  both continued their river rafting training and guiding with Hyak ; until 1989, when they sold the company, which is still in business today.

This included leading the first decent of the Firth River in Northwestern Yukon, into the Arctic Ocean, in 1981, with the National Geographic Society.

In 1987, there were 4 rafting accidents in BC, resulting in 12 fatalies. In the fall, Jim was named, by his peers, in the British Columbia, Professional Rafting Association, to act as a Subject Matter Expert (S.M.E.), with Dan Culver and Jim Miller, in the upcoming inquiries.

In 1988, Jim L met Jim Segerstrom (Jim S,) during the inqury .  Jim S. and Michael Croslin, both of\\from Sonora, California were 2 of the original founders of the “Swiftwater Rescue Technician” (SRT) program, the Rescue Instructiors Association RIA , a standards organization; and Rescue 3, a swiftwater training company in Sonora California in 1979.

In 1988 Jim Segerstrom  and Jim L agreed to form Rescue 3 Canada, in Vancouver, BC, based on the a swiftwater training sysyems developed by Rescue 3 in Sonora, California.

That same year, Jim L was asked to represent the Government of British Columbia; in negotiations with the Canadian Federal Minister of Transportation, Jean Luc Pepin, in Ottawa, to develop a Federal Commercial Standard for the River Rafting Industry, through changes in the Canada Shipping Act, which he did, successfully.

Also in 1988, , Jim first introduced the application of the four, critical, high-performance, Evidence-based Protocols, including;  1) Needs and Task Analysis, 2) Root Cause Analysis, 3) Near Miss Analysis  and   4) Gap Analysis.

These protocols were, and are now, used by performance driven, subject matter experts, to create  simple, meaningful, applicable and defendible Standards and Best Practice protocols, including for Rescue Canada’s Swiftwater Course cirricculum; and for separate, the stand alone, devevelopment of the Rescue Boat, Aquatic Rope course curricculums. 

Jim learned this process when he was first working as a Subject Matter Expert, (S.M.E.), with Col. Roger Carriere, Cdn, Army (Ret’d), in 1988, developing the new federal Standards (under the Transport Canada’s, Canada Shipping Act), for Commercial River Rafting in BC.

These protocols, also became the backbone of the IRIA “Risk Management Matrix” in 1998

In 1989, Jim was first contacted as an International, Court Qualified, Subject Matter Expert (S.M.E.) for the Defense, in the US Federal Court in Chicago, in regarding the multiple fatal rafting accidents in 1987, on the Chilko River, in BC, and the subsequent US  jury trials, in Chicago, in 1989


The Years of Change: 90’s – 2000

In 1990, Jim began to focus on developing an industry leading / evidence based, Swiftwater Safety and Rescue Courses.

In 1991, Michael Stegemann, a former high steel worker and a BC SAR Rescue team member (Swiftwater/Helo/ Dive)  and joined Rescue 3 Canada.  In 2004, he was part of the team that developed Rescue Canada’s the  e-learning program in 1996.   Again, in 1998 he was a part of the Rescue Canada team that started the helicopter safety training courses with Casey Ping, in Austin Texas. 

Also, in 1998, Jim and left the Rescue 3 group and formed  Rescue Canada Resource Group Inc., (RC) creating new training protocols.


In 1995, Jim formed Force 6 Safety Products Inc and started to create, develop, test and manufacture swiftwater specific equipment focusing on Rescue PFD’s, (See Below), using the four evidence-based protocols; to help professional groups that worked in the moving water environment across North America and around the world.

Swiftwater clients include members of 1) Special Operations / Emergency Response Groups, the Military, Police, Fire; including interntional Federal, State, Provincial and Municipal Task Forces,among others; 2) Extreme Recreation and Professional Guides with clients in Universities and Colleges and Professional Guides operating in higher risk rivers   ; 3) Occupational and Industrial Safety clients;  and .  In addition, these courses have been delivered to many ‘at risk’, occupational / industrial clients, including the movie industry; and of course; 4) Recreational and Public Safety

Using the Evidence-based Protocols, that Jim had learned in 1988-89 while working on the Transport Canada, the Canada Shipping Act, River Rafting Safety Standards Project; he began to re-build Rescue Canada’s course curriculum, and  Rescue Canada’s  operational decision-making protocols in 1993.

Driven by client demand, in 1994, Jim began to formally move away from the old, “non-specific, infotainment” driven, course content; which were, and still are being delivered by the other, static,  “show and tell” swiftwater training service providers, today.

This demand  also led to Jim  developing new, high performance, specialized, performance driven, swiftwater, safety and rescue equipment; specifically, PFD’s

This movement for change was initially based on research completed by both Jim Lavalley and Jim Segerstrom while working, internationally, as court qualified subject matter experts on “fatal accident” court cases, and investigating the direct and indirect issues that led to and surrounded these fatal, Swiftwater, and later, river ice accidents.

In 1995, Jim and Robert Beaudry (RC instructor at (UCC / TRU / Thompson Rivers University) began to move the old standard Heavy Technical Rope protocols over to a new Technical Aquatic Rope Specialist Course (with a Technical Rope pre-requisite).   

They also replaced it in the new Rescue Canada SSRT program with new rope Improvised Aquatic Rope Access Safety / Rescue protocols again, founded on the applied, proven, evidence based “Analysis” learned in the Transport Canada / Canada Shipping Act project in 1988, with Roger Carriere.

In the same year Jim began to move Swiftwater boat operations and rescue boat overviews out of the old, show and tell, swiftwater programs, and created new, stand alone Swiftwater Rescue Boat Safety  Operations and Technician Course (SRBT), using the same, proven, 4 evidence-based analysis that was used to restructure the Swiftwater program.

In 1996, following a Coroner’s Inquiry in Chilliwack,  where Jim was a S.M.E. for the Crown, he was asked  to develop a  Swiftwater Boat Program for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Conservation and Protection (Enforcement) Group on the Fraser River, in BC., again  based on the experience he had gained operating and training power boat on large volume rivers, since 1974.

This Swiftwater Boat curriculum became the foundations for many rescue organizations across North America, including OES in California, among many other groups..

Every year both the high performance, Swiftwater Safety and Rescue curriculum and the Swiftwater Rescue Boat curriculum continues to evolve, and are ungraded and used by professional organizations around the world, including the Swiftwater Rescue Training Acadamy / India in 2008 with the Drishti Group in India in 2008 and also with the NewRoper Group in Mainland China, in 2017.


STATIC AND DYNAMIC ICE          In 1997, while delivering a Swiftwater Ice Safety ontract for BC Hydro on the Peace River in Northern British Columbia, Jim began developing operational river ice safety protocols for BC Hydro, Environment Alberta, and the University of Alberta. Jim realized immediately that the current ice safety and rescue protocols used on static water,  ponds and small lakes, had very little application on dymatic river ice.

This was for those people who worked on complex, Dynamic River Ice on major rivers across the province. They quickly learned that Swiftwater adaptations to moving water ice far exceeded the safety and rescue practices and equipment (i.e. survival suits) that were / are still standard / accepted for those operating in the Static Ice (ice on non-moving water) environment.

Jim based Rescue Canada’s operational ice safety and rescue protocols on the proven principles from both Swiftwater and vertical ice climbing (Bruce Rieger), operational safety and rescue procedures. 

Ice on moving water is clearly a primary Swiftwater issue and secondly an ice environment issue from the very beginning.  As opposed to the ice environment on static water, where ice is the primary issue.

The first moving water (Dynamic) ice courses were delivered in 1998, and required a Swiftwater course certification as a prerequisite.

The key principles, technique and equipment that work in static water and a\ice environments have proven not to always work in dynamic, moving water and ice environments.




This research also resulted in the creation of a court qualified, “Risk Management Matrix” system that after objectively quantifying risk, provides individuals and organizations with the decision-making tools to better assist them to: 1) Develop simple, fact based, Standards and ‘Best Practices’ protocols; 2) Produce applicable operational Procedures and guidelines; and choose the right equipment.; 3) Deliver meaningful, applicable and defensible Course Certification Streams and Course Levels; and Course Structure, Content and Curriculum, and; 4)  Create informed decisions regarding planning; and running operations in the field

The first draft of the “Risk Management Matrix” was published in 2000.

Also in 2000, Jim Lavalley, joined Jim Segerstrom, co-founder of the original SRT program and the original RIA [the Rescue Instructors Association] in the early 80’] and Jez Hunter (a former officer in the Royal Marines) to form the International Rescue Instructors Alliance (IRIA) , an inclusive, highly specialized, evidence-based, Standards, Certification and Accreditation organization.

That year, Jim and Jim Segerstrom also formed the Global Rescue Group Inc, in California with the DBA in the US, ‘USA Rescue Network’, and they developed and implemented the “Integrated Training System” for Swiftwater / Boat and Ice, for both Rescue Canada and the USA Rescue Network.



Force 6’s Key People:

Jim Segerstrom, RossWyborn, Roy Fox, Casey Ping, Brett Conrad, Warren Roseberry.

Jim continued to develop and apply his experience, with input from others and with the three, evidence-based analysis processes; and he began to fundamentally redesign rescue PFD’s and other related Swiftwater safety equipment in 1995

In 1997, Jim formed Force 6 Safety Products Inc., and designed, manufactured and distributed (in its time) the ground breaking ‘Rescuer’ and ‘Instructor’ rescue specific, PFD’s (life jackets), That year Roy Fox became the first employe for Force 6, and he ran the office until 2017.

The Force 6 PFD’s were manufactured by Seratus, a company in British Columbia, Canada.  This manufacturer was managed by headed by Ross Wyborn, a design engineer, until 2005.

In 2007 Force 6 manufacturing moved to Aqualungs‘ factory in Mexico.

In 2008 JU began development of the Force 6 RescueTec PFD, the first and only rescue PFD to meet the new, and the highest, USCG Type 5 ‘Professional Rescue’ PFD standard, with Design Engineer, Ross Wyborn.

The Force 6 relationship, with Aqualung, was led by Brett Conrad until 2019.  Brett supported Force in the transition and helped us move or new manudacturing place in China.

With critical input and support from Casey Ping (Helicopter Rescue Specialist, Austin, Texas) and Ross Wyborn,  Jim co-designed, tested and developed the HARS (Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Specialist) PFD, the first molle based PFD with an integrated Class 5 harness, and multiple dorsal and sternum connection points.

The impetus for HARS (Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Specialist) PFD project came from an inquiry by a U.S. Special Forces Group that Jim Segerstrom, Dr. Michael Croslin (the founder of Rescue 3) and Jim were working with in Sonora, California, in 2005.  The HARS 1 project was completed in 2009.

Both the HARS PFD and the RescueTec PFD’s are now being used by a number of high-performance aquatic helicopter rescue group including Austin, Texas StarFlight and L.A. Fire. groups.

Jim also co-developed a special use (high entry) PFD with the Research and Development team and Marine 6 Group of the New York Fire Dept. (FDNY) in 2014, and which went into service in 2016.

In 2016, Jim and Ross Wyborn, with input from key SME’s, including Warren Roseberry and Casey Ping, developed the completely new, entry level “RescueOps” PFD, to meet the new demands and realities of our client base.

In 2017 Warren Roseberry, President of Rescue Gear, in Austin Texas, and Force 6’s largest PFD buyer, joined Jim and Force 6 as the Vice President, Business Operations; and as an equal partner with Force 6 Safety Products, in Vancouver, Canada; and Force 6 WorldWide, in Austin Texas

Jim, Warren and Casey Ping has rebuilt a new HARS 2 in 2019 and are currently working on a number of prototypes with the team.