Members of the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad set up their gear in the parking lot at the AV Museum in June 2016. FACEBOOK PHOTO

PAC RIM ACTIVE: First responders in the backcountry

Volunteers keep people safe in the outdoors

  • Jan. 2, 2018 12:00 p.m.

Sandy McRuer

Special to the News

A couple of summers ago, I was reminded about how easily we can get lost in the bush if you are not paying attention. I was on a hike with about 10 others on the Beaufort Range. One of the hikers was relatively inexperienced and had to stop for a while to rest.

As the trail was relatively well ribboned with flagging tape, and the trail was visible for those who were paying attention, the leaders continued expecting him to catch up, or stay where he was to rest. That was a mistake. We got up to the alpine and had a nice time wandering around. After a while, we wondered where Buddy was. We started back hoping to meet him where we had left him. He wasn’t there. Someone remarked that it was quite buggy: no wonder he didn’t stick around.

Fortunately we didn’t have to call the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad (AVRS), but it was not before spending a couple of hours bushwhacking and calling for him.

Local search and rescue groups are a very important part of the first responder system in British Columbia. Despite all the precautions sometimes things go haywire, and it is comforting to know that there are people who volunteer their time to come and get us, wherever we may be.

I spoke to two of the senior members of the squad the other day. The president, Dave Poulsen is basically a full-time first responder dividing his time between being a full-time paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service and being a Visitor Safety Technician for Parks Canada, or walking the West Coast Trail as he describes it. He is incredibly well-trained as he does this sort of thing full time.

All of the members are extremely well-trained. In fact, half the events the AVRS is involved in are training exercises. Only 20 percent of their time is in actual, what they call, “incidents”. Remarkably, half of the rest of it is in public events and promotion. And that is because funding is so uncertain.

Poulsen says they secure funds in “multiple creative ways” including significant patronage by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. Also, the provincial government provides approximately $5 million to the BC Search and Rescue Association to disburse among its 80 member-groups across the province. One of the tasks the BCSAR does is to lobby the province to provide more stable and secure funding in the future, not to pay the members, but to replace and maintain their equipment.

The other fellow I spoke to, Mark Palmer, is now the search manager director for the squad. He’s been around the organization since 2001, and has done everything from soup to nuts over the years including being president. He says that when he started, the squad numbered around 20 people. Now it is around 40, and at times there is even a waiting list. And that’s good because more and more people are heading into the backcountry. In 2016, the AVRS broke their call volume record.

Sadly, more and more incidents involve people who haven’t always taken the time to prepare themselves properly. The AVRS gets everything from calls direct to the search and rescue hall on Tebo Avenue from a woman who got lost on the way down to the bridge over Roger Creek from the fairgrounds, to extracting someone from a deep canyon on Yellow Creek in the Cameron River valley.

Years ago, many of the incidents were in the fall and involved mushroom pickers. However, they are called out at all times of the year now. “But the summer forest closure was a welcome reprieve,” says Poulsen.

Palmer says that despite the long hours of training, and the exhaustion from incidents that stretch into the wee hours of the morning, it is deeply rewarding, especially when you realize you’ve saved a person’s life. Palmer remembers the Yellow Creek incident well. They were called out on a Friday night to find a quad rider who had taken off from an evening get-together, as he called it, and hadn’t returned.

They looked along the Cameron Mainline for two days until Palmer decided to hire a helicopter and look in the canyon. Finally, Palmer found the missing person. For him, there have been many other successful incidents like this.

I don’t know how many readers have found themselves in situations where you’ve needed or been close to needing help for a rescue. Anyone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors has likely been in a situation where help was contemplated. The wonderful thing is that search and rescue does not scold you or tell you to be more prepared. They just help you out. They are a great bunch of both men and women.

For more information, visit either the B.C. Search and Rescue Association’s website at http://www.bcsara.com/ or the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad at http://www.avrs.ca/. The AVRS also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/albernivalleyrescue.

 

Members of the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad gather in the bush in May 2016. Eighty percent of the volunteers’ time is spent training and fundraising, while 20 percent is spent on searches. FACEBOOK PHOTO

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