After being without a home for several years, the Nechako Valley Search and Rescue is hoping to move into their new headquarters, the former Air Cadet building on Burrard Street.
“We have our equipment and offices in three or four different places around town,” says NVSR President Chris Mushumanski, “and right now we’re based out of the fire hall. We’re excited about the opportunity to have a dedicated training facility, our mobile command base, equipment, and office in one location. The building permit is in place, the contractor has been selected, and we hope to have it complete by this fall.” Seed money came from the Search and Rescue team, followed by $20,000 from the District of Vanderhoof, a grant from the Nechako-Kitimat Development Fund, and money from the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District gas tax fund. “We’re grateful that we fit their parameters,” says Mushumanski. “It can be difficult for groups to meet the criteria, and they were very helpful in guiding us through the process.
“We’re also thankful for the recognition of what Search and Rescue does throughout the area. It’s helpful that we operate in all areas of the Regional District, which has a large footprint.” He acknowledges that the money from the four different sources—some $150,000—means that the volunteers on the NVSR don’t have to spend time and energy fundraising. “Some teams have a dedicated fundraising section, which takes a lot of time and effort. The fundraising model for Search and Rescue teams needs to be overhauled, with all levels of government committed to equitable funding. There’s a certain amount of money needed for equipment, training, and expenses no matter how small a team is. We need to provide stable funding for all the teams in the province.”
Considering the amount of time and energy Search and Rescue volunteers devote to their training—let alone their calls—it’s not surprising that they don’t want to have to fundraise as well. The NVSR has three different training areas, all of which meet twice a month for sessions: regular ground search and rescue; water rescue; and rope rescue. While most of the members are in one team, four of the members are in all three.
The NVSR currently has 48 members, 21 of whom are full time active, with another 27 who can be used as extra manpower. They’re not trained to the full breadth of the full time members, but can be used when more basic skills are needed, especially in a large operation. The team is always looking for more members, and anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to come to the training session on the first Thursday of each month.
“It’s a big time commitment,” notes Mushumanski. In 1991 there were 400 Search and Rescue callouts province-wide, a figure which rose to 1,400 in 2014. The growth in that number shows that a lot of things are in play, says Mushumanski. “The provincial population is up, plus we’re known throughout the world for being a super, natural outdoor experience. More people are confident in their abilities in the back country, and the RCMP, who are usually the first ones called when someone needs rescuing, are turning to us more and more as they realize we have the necessary skills to find people.”
He also points to an urban/rural split, that’s not so much in evidence here but comes into play in a place like Vancouver. “You have an urban population beside a true wilderness, where people don’t have the necessary skills but still go up the Grouse Grind and then find themselves in trouble. It’s great that we live in a province and community where there are groups of volunteers willing to provide help to others regardless of the reason why they got into trouble.”
It’s for this reason that Mushumanski disagrees with those who call for rescued people to be charged for Search and Rescue services. “We don’t always know the whole story. I like to use the analogy of a guard rail on a highway. It’s there to protect you no matter how you got into trouble, whether you were careless or whether it’s an emergency. Search and Rescue is the guard rail of the back country. It doesn’t matter why people need it; we’re there. Not charging for that is appropriate.”