The British Columbia Search and Rescue Association has had a record year in call-outs for at least the last two years and is in need of evaluation according to recent press releases.
Chris Mushumanski, the Nechako Valley Search and Rescue team leader told Omineca Express that the number of tasks they were called out to last year was around 14 and already they have surpassed that number with barely half of this year gone.
According to Mushumanski, the local team averages between eight and 12 call-outs a year but this year they have been called out approximately 17 times. This is a situation which begs the question, can B.C., one of the best search and rescue operations in the world, sustain this model of operations?
“In terms of sustainability we are concerned in two areas, one is the funding sources that we get to purchase our equipment necessary to do a safe search and rescue as well as the training needed for that,” said Mushumanski. “There’s literally hundreds if not thousands of hours trying to get the funds together then you have to purchase the equipment and find the training.”
The second concern is paying the volunteers. Search and rescue operations are run completely by volunteers.
“To ask volunteers first of all, to go out and search or rescue somebody is one thing but then to ask them to go about trying to fund the equipment and training they need to do that seems a little excessive and has increased hugely in the last few years compared to the expectations back when I joined search and rescue in the 90s,” said Mushumanski. “When you look at how much time and effort is being put into making those teams able to funded and trained, it’s expecting too much from volunteers and that is first and foremost what search and rescue is for the province, they’re all volunteers.”
A news release stated that there have been evaluations of the SAR teams’ needs in 1996 and 2004 which resulted in changes to the service. They also conducted a two year consultation process titled “Leveling the Playing Field” where search and rescue groups met to “discuss issues and identify solutions” according to press release from the BCSARA.
In the press release put out by BCSARA, the scale of SAR operations in B.C. compared to other provinces shows that 1,300 incidents occurred in B.C. which is more than all the rest of Canada combined.
So asking volunteers here to possibly take time off from work and donate their wages to do a training course that could take up to three days as well as be available should someone need rescuing is a huge operation for which an employer may not compensate the rescue worker.
But the reason behind the increase in call-outs can’t be pinned down to any one source.
“In Vanderhoof our bread and butter used to be from May long weekend (date) to the end of hunting season in November and inside that it was mainly recreational people and a lot of activity in the fall with hunting,” said Mushumanski. “Now you’re seeing all sorts of different kinds of people in the forest, mushroom pickers, berry pickers, industries other than forestry like mining. There’s more people out doing different things.”
Last week there two call-outs for the Nechako Valley Search and Rescue, one on August 19 where N.V.S.A.R. was called out to find three missing berry pickers south of Francois Lake. But the three managed to walk out on their own and SAR stood down.
Then, on August 21, N.V.S.A.R. was called out to assist in locating and transporting an injured person near Germansen Landing four hours north of Vanderhoof. But the subject was located and an ambulance helicopter flew the individual out.
Thankfully these operations didn’t require search and rescue operators to donate their wages but if the search had gone on long enough, they would have had to.
The Nechako Valley Search and Rescue covers the entire Vanderhoof Forest district and a few kilometres west towards Fraser Lake. They have a little under 50 members who can be called out to anywhere in the province, as needed, and they are always looking for more. They had members helping in Bella Coola, Terrace and Chetwynd recently.