I am a SAR volunteer from Vanderhoof, belonging to Nechako Valley SAR for 18 years, and the BCSARA Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team for 2 years. Over these years, I trained to become a ground searcher, team leader, search manager, a BCSARA regional director, and also a CISM peer. I love being a SAR volunteer; there are few things more varied, exciting, challenging and rewarding than volunteering with the 2500 SAR members around the province. My home team, NVSAR, is a smaller team when stacked up against the other 79 BCSARA SAR teams around the province, and it started in 1991. While each of those 24 years has its own interesting call outs, training events or trends, this past July was one that blew our record books out the window.
To give you some perspective, for the first 15 years as a SAR team, NVSAR’s call out number ranged between 6-10, with 1-2 of these taking more than 1 day to complete. In the last 8 years the average crept up to 12-13 call outs a year, with a record high 22 call outs in 2013. Clearly we are not a team that will ever have the call volume of many of the larger SAR teams in the province, but neither are we trying to be either!
As a volunteer, usually I can make 80% of our call outs over a year. I am very lucky to teach in a school district that supports its community first responder volunteers and allows me to go out on tasks when called. Also, and probably more important, is my wife and 2 daughters and their support for my SAR habit, forgiving me when I miss birthdays, anniversaries, concerts, games and plays when the ‘bat phone’ goes off and out the door I go.
This past July, starting on the 1st and lasting until the 30th, NVSAR was called out 8 times. While I am on summer holidays, I am teaching summer school. However, when the proverbial ‘bat phone’ went off, I was able to respond to all 8 calls, along with 2 CISM calls as well. In total, these 10 SAR and CISM tasks had me out for 18 days. Some of them were resolved in under 6 hours; 5 of them took multiple days, with one task lasting 6 days (I was out for 2) involving SAR volunteers from 6 SAR teams, along with over 140 convergent volunteers. Thankfully these call outs came when I was on summer holidays, and my family was able to accommodate my absences very generously. These call outs ranged from searches for an elderly person with dementia, a missing teen fisherman, a vehicle in a river, mushroom and berry pickers, missing jet boaters twice, and a missing Dad en route to his daughter’s 16th birthday. The CISM call outs supported over 20 SAR volunteers after they were tasked with the challenge of recovering bodies.
Some of these tasks had the rewards of finding the subject alive, and being able to celebrate with their family and friends with the joyful news. Others involved the challenge of locating our subject deceased, and then providing the heart breaking information to their loved ones. Of the 8 SAR calls, 5 of them had me working not only with my NVSAR family, but close SAR friends across the central interior of BC. One SAR volunteer from Houston had the misfortune of working with me on 5 of these calls 🙂 but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, and I hope he wouldn’t either.
I have been asked, “Why so many? What is going on?” There really is no simple answer, but in part, I think a few things are at play. The SAR teams in my area work very well together, and when a call out goes longer, has a larger search area, is more complicated or when you need more trained volunteers, we call each other. We call this mutual aid, and with 5 of these tasks, mutual aid was used very effectively. The RCMP also do an excellent job in activating SAR early on in their investigation of a missing person, recognizing the usefulness of SAR volunteers. And as the BCSARA SAR teams get more notice for the excellent work we do, I think we get asked to come out and help again and again.
All 10 of these call outs brought out the elements of SAR I love; they were rewarding, challenging, exciting, with a variety of locations and situations. I hope things slow down in the coming weeks, but also look forward to the next call, with the chance to work with my SAR family and help another person out. For these 10 callouts to happen, I need to mention all of the agencies and teams that drop everything and help someone in need. Thanks goes out to the RCMP fixed wing and RCMP helicopter, PEPAir teams out of Prince George, Vanderhoof and Smithers, Amateur Radio in Prince George, Terrace SAR, Bulkley Valley SAR in Smithers, Houston SAR, Burns Lake SAR, Fort St. James SAR, Prince George SAR, South Peace SAR in Dawson Creek, Quesnel SAR, and of course my SAR family in Vanderhoof, Nechako Valley. Always a pleasure to work with you all, and I look forward to our next times together!
BC Search and Rescue Assoc.
Bulkley Nechako Region