Campbell River Search and Rescue (CRSAR) followed the same trend in 2017 that all search and rescues groups in the province experienced – an increase in demand.
Campbell River Search and Rescue had a busy 2017, said CRSAR manager Grant Cromer in a year-end report.
“We logged 52 operational calls for service,” Cromer said. “We had 44 in 2016, so that’s an 18 per cent 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 B.C. is trending upwards in call volume. That’s a trend that has been happening over the past 10-plus years.”
The type of call they are responding to is also changing, Cromer said.
“Twenty 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, CRSAR spends more time in rescue mode then in search mode. Although they do still look for missing persons, their 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 (as) the resources we have to deploy,” Cromer said. “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 they respond to has also evolved. From May to October CRSAR responds to medical distress type evacuations. Summers are typically very busy with rescuing hikers and backcountry users in medical distress or who have become overwhelmed by circumstances.
“We utilized our helicopter long line rescue team five 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.”
CRSAR also spends 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 B.C.
“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 eight-day ground search,” Cromer said.
In between all that, CRSAR volunteers still need to train and keep their skills up. They 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.”
CRSAR’s big project for 2016 was a new vehicle and a new truck box for their response fleet. Some of their equipment loads were becoming too cumbersome to carry on the chassis they had so they needed to upgrade and expand the carry capacity. The funding from the province over the last two years has been substantial for all SAR groups in B.C. Monies were given specially to support capital purchases and training which goes a long way in regards to their training budget and purchasing of new equipment, Cromer said.
“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 per cent volunteer labour force,” Cromer said. “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 B.C. owe all their local SAR group volunteers a big thank-you. B.C. has one of the best search and rescue system in the world and the best in Canada and it’s staffed by 100 per cent volunteers. That’s a huge statement on the dedication and commitment our volunteers have.”
Further information on the search and rescue system in B.C. can be found on www.bcsara.com or www.crsar.ca. Valuable trip planning and safety information can be found on the AdventureSmart website, www.adventuresmart.ca