2017 was a busy year for Campbell River Search & Rescue; we logged 52 operational calls for service. We had 44 in 2016 so that’s an 18% increase in call volume for the year, which is pretty typical of the stats we are seeing all over the province. Almost every SAR group in BC is trending upwards in call volume. That’s a trend that has been happening over the past 10 plus years. As well, the type of call we are responding to is changing. 20 years ago we typically responded to calls for missing persons, and spent a lot of time on the ground looking for them, with a few rescue calls mixed in. That has now flipped 180 degrees; Campbell River SAR as with the provincial trend, has seen a marked increase in rescue type calls over the standard missing person call. Typically we spend more time in rescue mode then in search mode. Although we do still look for missing persons our missing person calls have been aided by technology in the form of cell phones, satellite phones and PLBs; Personal Locator Beacons. We now often get the coordinates of the missing person and that decreases the time it takes to locate them, as well the resources we have to deploy. A search for a missing person with no known location can take up massive amounts of personnel and resources on the ground. With known locations we can dispatch a smaller specialized rescue team to the location, decreasing search time. The type of call we are responding to have also evolved. From May to October we pretty much respond to medical distress type evacuations. Our summers are typically very busy rescuing hikers and backcountry users in medical distress or who have become overwhelmed by circumstances. We utilized our helicopter long line rescue team 5 times this year for remote rescue calls, including several times to the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim Park to rescue injured hikers. We trained with the Parks Canada Public Safety Officers in 2016 as they are often faced with difficult extraction scenarios on the West Coast Trail, and utilizing a long line rescue technique is uniquely suited to that area.
We also spend a lot of time in different communities on Vancouver Island assisting other SAR groups on task. The BC SAR system is set up so all groups can provide mutual aid to any other group in BC; the skill set is the same so we can ship members to Nanamio for a dementia walk-away call, or to Smithers for a missing mushroom picker call as we did this year on an extensive 8 day ground search.
In between all that we still need to train and keep our skills up. We train regularly in a variety of disciplines: Rope Rescue, Swift water Rescue, Mountain Rescue, First aid etc. We never know what we will be faced with on a call so we need to have a broad variety of skills and personnel on scene. A motor vehicle over an embankment could turn into a water rescue, a broken ankle on a trail could evolve into a complex first aid scenario with a helicopter evacuation so we need to be ready to respond quickly with a variety of equipment and skill sets Our big project for 2016 was a new vehicle and a new truck box for our response fleet. Some of our equipment loads were becoming too cumbersome to carry on the chassis, we had so we needed to upgrade and expand the carry capacity. The funding from the province the last 2 years has been substantial to all SAR groups in BC. Monies were given specially to support capital purchases and training which goes a long way in regards to our training budget and purchasing of new equipment.
We still need to fundraise to pay for the day-to-day expenses like vehicle insurance, hydro, radio licences etc. and all this is done by a 100% volunteer labour force. Our members who are all unpaid volunteers dedicate hundreds of hours each year personally to train, respond and fundraise to support our organization. They are the backbone of what we do and I think the people of BC owe all their local SAR group volunteers a big thank-you. BC has one of the best search and rescue system in the world and the best in Canada and it’s staffed by 100 % volunteers. That’s a huge statement on the dedication and commitment our volunteers have.
Further information on the search and rescue system in BC can be found on www.bcsara.com or www.crsar.ca as well valuable trip planning and safety
information can be found on the AdventureSmart website, www.adventuresmart.ca