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Nechako Valley Search and Rescue members preparing for a busy summer

The Nechako Valley Search and Rescue team are our community builders of the month for Vanderhoof
Nechako Valley Search and Rescue doing flat ice training for winter operations. (Submitted photo)

Along with fire evacuations, stranded mushroom pickers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts are among concerns for Nechako Valley Search and Rescue this summer.

Chris Mushumanski has been with Nechako Valley Search and Rescue (NVSAR) for 25 years. It was a combination of passions for the outdoors and teaching that got him started and he hasn’t looked back since. He is also the president of BC Search and Rescue Association.

Mushumanski said this year is expected to be busy due to a combination of factors. This summer is expected to be dry which could mean another season of frequent forest fires and they’re preparing to help with any evacuations.

A perhaps less obvious result of last year’s forest fires will be mushroom hunters getting lost while looking to turn a profit from abundant harvests.

“We’re expecting to have a number of mushroom pickers come to our area and many times they need rescuing. So we’re already planning for missing mushroom pickers.”

READ MORE: Billions in losses, thousands could die if wildfire response unchanged: report

He said with the COVID-19 pandemic Canadians unable to travel for vacation have flocked to outdoor recreation, resulting in a 33 per cent increase in calls for help since 2018.

“We attribute a significant portion of that to people not being able to go to recreate where they used to. Now they’ve gotten a taste of what’s in their own backyard,” Mushumanski said.

“Those folks historically didn’t have the skills or the equipment or the experience to be going out into some of the more technical terrain and oftentimes in our weather, our geography is very unforgiving. So folks can get themselves in trouble right away.”

Born in Regina, Saskt., Mushumanski moved to Vanderhoof when he was 18 and settled down here more permanently when he was 23. He works with the EBUS academy online learning school.

“I also found myself very drawn to community service and wanting to live in a community where people take care of each other,” Mushumanski said. “Search and rescue was a really good opportunity for those all to come together.”

He said search and rescue in the Nechako Valley is especially important because of the large area covered. Ambulance and police resources when it comes to locating missing or injured people are often stretched. Volunteers get their rewards from contributing to those efforts.

“To have local folks with the local knowledge, the skills, the equipment, and training, really helps supplement the response,” Mushumanski said. “The people that I find joining search and rescue are very community minded, they really want to make a difference where they live. So they join to be able to make a meaningful difference.”

READ MORE: Mitigating stress while being a search and rescue volunteer

Being a part of an SAR group is rewarding in other ways, too. Since 1997 when he joined Mushumanski has developed skills in team leadership and as a search manager.

“I’ve taken avalanche training, tracking training, swift water and flat ice. I’ve had the opportunity to really explore a lot of different things,” Mushumanski said. “Nine years ago I joined the provincial mental health team for search and rescue volunteers. That’s another really meaningful way that I’ve been able to volunteer as a SAR member across the province.”

The Nechako Valley SAR is planning to do an intake of new members in the fall of this year

READ MORE: Nechako Valley Search and Rescue swift water team members practice on Nechako River

“We have a full complement of volunteers, very passionate, enthusiastic people that love to have new folks joining us,” Mushumanski said. “We do encourage folks to get outdoors but to do it safely and responsibly.”

Mushumanski recommends the website that has free tips and information on staying safe. You can put together a trip plan and be more prepared for unexpected mishaps. He advised to always let someone know when you’re heading into the wilderness so that if you’re overdue to return they can call for help on your behalf.

“That can make a real difference in terms of how long you’re waiting or how tough things are while you’re waiting for help.” Mushumanski said. “There’s no charge for rescue. And we’re happy to come out and provide service and help as needed.”

If you are in need of assistance you can call 9-1-1 and explain your emergency. From there authorities can then activate search and rescue.

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