Search master celebrates 50 years

Pete Wise, with his companion Nunk, is celebrating 50 years with Search and Rescue. - Coralie Nairn photo
Pete Wise, with his companion Nunk, is celebrating 50 years with Search and Rescue.
— image credit: Coralie Nairn photo

Even while being interviewed, Pete Wise knows he may receive a sudden call that scuttles all plans and sends him looking for someone in distress.

“My gear is always ready to go,” he said.

And it’s been that way for 50 years for the Coldstream resident who was honoured Saturday by Emergency Management B.C. for his five decades in Search and Rescue.

“Somebody has to do it. I just want to help my fellow man, it’s pretty cool.”

It was 1964 when a then 16-year-old Wise joined Maple Ridge’s Port Hammond Alouettes, a Scout unit and part of B.C. civil defence.

His mentor was leader Bud DeWolf.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said the now 66-year-old Wise.

“We trained and trained – rope climbing and swimming. There was the camaraderie and skills we learned.”

His first major rescue came when a man clung to a cliff face 700 feet in the air.

“It was said we lowered ropes but we went and got him. We were out on the tree limb with him,” said Wise.

“The very first one you ever go on is significant. It’s such an adrenalin rush, there’s so much satisfaction.”

That passion continued when he moved to the North Okanagan in the early 1970s and he was soon receiving calls for help from Frank Whitecotton, an early driving force in Vernon Search and Rescue.

“He moulded young men,” said Wise of Whitecotton.

Since then, Wise has filled virtually every position there is with Vernon SAR, which is a volunteer organization. He is trained in or a leader in rope rescue, flat ice rescue, swift water rescue, tracking, search management and ground searches.

He’s also an instructor for the Justice Institute and the B.C. Institute of Technology.

Wise has lost track of how many thousands of incidents he has responded to, whether it is a senior who has walked away from home, a snowmobiler lost in the woods or a boater who has drowned.

In 1998, Wise and Don Blakely oversaw search co-ordination when wildfire threatened Salmon Arm – Canada’s largest evacuation ever at that time. The scene was repeated in 2003 during the fire storms in Barriere and Kelowna.

But perhaps the most meaningful case came in 2006 when an 11-year-old Armstrong girl went missing.

Search and Rescue members, as well as other emergency personnel, spent days combing the community for her. Eventually she was found and an individual was arrested for kidnapping.

As Wise and most of the SAR volunteers are also parents, finding the girl took on a new meaning.

“There were a lot of grown men crying,” said Wise.

But it’s because of those experiences that Wise remains motivated.

“Bringing home a lost hunter or being involved in a (body) recovery so there’s some closure for a family is important,” he said.

He admits, though, that volunteering has been disruptive on the home front for his wife Kate and two now-grown children.

“You just sit down to dinner and there’s a 911 call or a call comes in when you’re tucked into bed,” he said.

“Sometimes you’re gone just a short time or it’s two or three days. All of this wouldn’t happen without the support of my family.”

And Wise has developed another family, his colleagues at Vernon SAR.

“I love them. We fight and squabble like siblings but there’s deep affection and respect. I wouldn’t do anything without them,” he said.

Saturday’s celebration marked a 50-year career, but Wise has no plans to retire any time soon.

“I’ll go as long as my health is here and as long as they’ll have me,” he said.

“It’s been a hell of a run for me.”


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