When David Kirkham receives a call about a lost or missing person somewhere in the Capital Regional District, his heart pounds and his palms begin to sweat.
As one of roughly 35 volunteers with Metchosin Search and Rescue (SAR), Kirkham drops what he’s doing and prepares for the search at hand.
“It’s basically a little bit of adrenaline,” said the 66-year-old Metchosin resident, who started volunteering with the team nine years ago after he retired.
“Calls can come in at any given time … You never know, you may be just sitting down for dinner when you get the call to go. It can happen day or night, usually it does happen in the evening or overnight.”
Armed with a few details about the person, Kirkham grabs his “ready pack,” which includes granola bars, water and warm clothing, straps on his hiking boots, throws on his red and black Metchosin SAR jacket, and jumps into his car to drive to the search and rescue’s emergency centre located adjacent to the Metchosin Fire Hall.
Time is of the essence as members have 30 to 45 minutes from when they initially receive the call to meet at the centre on Happy Valley Road.
Once at the centre, the team receives a debriefing from one of six search managers who lays out the game plan – which teams will be working together and how they’re going to plot the search – inside the SAR trailer.
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Founded in 1989, Metchosin Search and Rescue, which is under the umbrella of Emergency Management B.C., services Metchosin, Langford, Colwood, Highlands, View Royal, Esquimalt, Victoria and Oak Bay. It also provides mutual aid resources in other areas of the region, Vancouver Island, and the province.
The team assists with searches for missing people in both the wilderness, where people have become lost or injured (and are usually unprepared), and urban settings for elderly people or those with mental illnesses who have wandered away. They also assist with searches for despondent people, those who may have walked away from their vehicles and can’t be found, for example, and conduct evidence searches for police.
Depending on the search, the team could be looking for individuals anywhere from one hour to several days, until the person is found or ultimately the decision is made by police to call off the search.
Last year, the team received roughly 30 callouts – the second highest number of callouts in its history. On Vancouver Island, the team responded to a number of callouts to Mount Work, East Sooke Park, and trails near China Beach. The team was also one of many that were called to help in the search for a 73-year-old Nanaimo woman who was foraging for mushrooms in October.
While most searches have a happy ending, there are some that unfortunately do not. Searches where no person or body has been recovered are the hardest. Those are the ones the keep search manager and Metchosin resident Craig Barlow awake at night.
“There’s been folks that have committed suicide that we found, those can be pretty difficult,” he said, nothing one year there were roughly 21 callouts and about a dozen of them were fatalities.
“If we find nothing, it leaves all of us with this huge hole because we haven’t been able to close that gap. As much as we hope it doesn’t result in a fatality, we would rather find a person that’s deceased to find closure for the family than to find nothing.”
Metchosin resident Karen Hoffman, who has volunteered with the team for more than three years, said the number of hours that have gone into a search doesn’t matter in the end, as long as the team can help bring someone home safe.
“The ones that turn out well, you find the people, you bring them out, those are the ones that you remember fondly,” she said, adding Metchosin SAR consists of a good group of people and allows her to give back to the community. “It’s better to have somebody show up, then not know at all. If we were out for 12 hours to 24 hours, it doesn’t matter, if we find them and they’re fine, then that’s great.”
“You always want to focus on the ones that are successful,” he said. “It’s just knowing that people really appreciate it.”
For more information about Metchosin Search and Rescue visit metchosinsar.ca.