About Jim Lavalley

Not being a “BIO’ fan at all, and realizing that no one actually reads any more: ….. there has been some pressure to do a little something.

So I have attempted here to, give anyone interested, a running history of my experiences of the rivers, focusing on, and thanking, some of the incredible people who have made me become, the person I am, or was.  LOL   

If I have not mention you here, let me know,  ASAP, and I will gladly put you in.  Here we go ……

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 the development and application of new designs of specialized Swiftwater equipment; all, helping (along with many others,) to make “Swiftwater Rescue“, a stand alone, technical rescue discipline, around the world.

Jim was the 8th person, and the only Canadian, in the 22-year history of the Higgins – Langley Awards, when in 2013 he was awarded this, the committees’ highest, international honor.

Jim, is an Internationally Recognized / Court Qualified, Swiftwater and Dynamic Ice, Subject Matter Expert; and 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 into the world of moving water.  During which time, he has recorded over 25,000 (documented / witnessed) professional, operational hours, (excluding recreational, stand-by and travel hours), in P.P.E., at / on / in / under and over, in the higher risk, moving water and dynamic ice environments.

During this time, Jim has also accumulated another 30,000 (documented / witnessed) 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; and 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 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 late springs and summers of 1972-73.

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, and the Alsek / Tatshenshini Rivers through BC, the Yukon and Alaska.


The Middle Years: 1980 – 1989

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

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

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

In 1988, Jim L met Jim Segerstrom (Jim S,), who had begun working with Michael Croslin, as the original founders of the “Swiftwater Rescue Technician” (SRT) program, and Rescue 3, in Sonora California in 1979. That year, 1988) Jim Segerstrom  suggested that  Jim L form Rescue 3 Canada. 

That same year, Jim 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.

They both continued their guide training and certification work; and their contract river safety and rescue professions for Hyak, until 1989, when they sold the company, which is still in business today.

Jim L also started to work with Jim Segerstrom on the new IRIA, after he suggested (in 1990), that since the scope of the RIA had expanded, with an and an international membership (Canada), and that the RIA may be better named as the IRIA.   See the IRIA segment below.

That same year, Jim also first introduced to 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 stand alone Swiftwater Course cirricculum and for separate, the stand alone, seperation and devevelopment Rescue Roat and 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 1989, Jim was first “Court Qualified, Internationally”, as a Subject Matter Expert (S.M.E.) for the defense, in the US Federal Court in Chicago, in 1989. 

This was a result of one of the during multiple fatal rafting accidents in 1987, on the Chilko River, in BC, and the subsequent US  jury trials, in Chicago, in 1989

In 1989, JimL and Jim Scott sold Hyak River Expeditions to two of the senior guides and the company is still operating today. 

That year, Jim L began formally focusing on his new Swiftwater Safety / Rescue Training Company, Rescue 3 Canada, in Vancouver, with Jim Segerstrom, in Sonora, California


The Years of Change: 90’s – 2000

In th winter of 1990, Jim began to first focus on developing an industry leading / evidence based, Swiftwater / Dynamic River Ice Safety and Rescue Courses.

In 1991, Michael Stegemann, former high steel worker, acurrently a BC Paramedic and a  BC SAR (Swiftwater/Helo/ Dive) Rescue team member, joined Rescue 3 Canada. 

Michael was an early investor in Rescue Canada; and in 1999 he started the helicopter safety trainingg courses for Rescue Canada with Casey Ping in Austin Texas.  In 2004, Michael also led the development Rescue Canada’s e-learning program in 1996 

That year,  with Jim Segerstrom, and with the support of Michael Stegemann (former high steel worker, and a BC SAR Swiftwater/Helo/ Dive Rescue team member), Jim L formed Rescue 3 Canada Inc. (R3C), which evolved into Rescue Canada Resource Group Inc., (RC) in 1998.

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.

Clients include members of Special Operations / Emergency Response Groups, the Military, Police, Fire; including interntional Federal, State, Provincial and Municipal Task Forces,among others; Extreme Recreation and Professional River Guides; ‘at risk” Occupational and Industrial clients;  and clients, Universities and College and Professional Guides.  In addition, these courses have been delivered to many ‘at risk’, occupational / industrial clients, including the movie industry; and of course, recreational safety groups and members of the public.

Using the Evidence-based Protocols, that Jim had learned in 1988-89 while working on the Transport Canada, 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. 

See Force 6 Equipment below.

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, again, move the technical rope overviews, from the old, show and tell, SRT Swiftwater courses, over to a new separate Aquatic Technical Rope Specialist course (with a Technical Rope pre-requisite).   They 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, SRT program, into a standalone Swiftwater Boat Operations and Safety Technician course (SBRT), using the same, proven, 4 evidence-based analysis that was used to restructure the Swiftwater program.

Jim has thousands of hours operating and teaching paddle, oar and power boats on rivers, around the world, professionally, since 1972.

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, 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 others.

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 India in 2008 and in China in 2017


In 1997, while delivering a Swiftwater safety program for BC Hydro on the Peace River, Jim began developing operational river ice safety protocols for BC Hydro, Environment Alberta, and the University of Alberta. Jim realized immediately that ice safety and rescue, on moving water, had very little to do with ice safety and rescue on static water, on ponds and small lakes.

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 (1) Swiftwater issue and secondly, (2) 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) Make better, 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



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

In 1997, he formed Force 6 Safety Products Inc., and designed, manufactured and distributed (in its time) the ground breaking ‘Rescuer’ and ‘Instructor’ rescue PFD’s, in 1998.

In 2008 he 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.

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 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 Company 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

Jim is currently working on a number of prototypes including a complete rebuild of the HARS PFD, among other projects.


In the Beginning; ……. Before Peanut butter ……. and Without any End in Mind:

Jim’s river life started seriously when he was 11 years old.   With his best friend, Ricky Luscombe, they lashed a round piece of heavy canvas, into the center of Ricky’s large tractor tire tube.

And with 2 paddles, they pushed off a few meters below the falls at Hog’s Back on the Rideau River in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

They spun down through the rapids, completely out of control, for a few kilometers, down to Billings Bridge, where they finally made landfall

At the time were were certainly unaware that this may have been one of the first, ‘self-bailing’, raft descents, in Canada.  “Shoot the Puck!   That’s for sure, Junior!”