Weekly Column: Search and Rescue Funding Must Be Included In Provincial Budget Planning

By | February 25, 2019

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, February 25 2019.

I have never been in a situation where I had to be rescued by one of the SAR groups in our province. But like everyone else, I have been hearing and reading a lot of stories about people needing rescuing from all sorts of sticky situations, including the recent one of the snow-biker near Lumby. While unfortunately not all of them have a happy ending, the fact remains: Search and Rescue volunteers are out doing everything they can.

Our local group, Kamloops Search and Rescue KSAR, had 42 calls last year and 72 multi-day searches, amounting to 3500 hours. That’s a lot of time away from home, family, work, or sleep (for some volunteers it is all of them combined.)

I wrote about it before – either arguing for the need to know what we’re heading into when we make plans to be in the great outdoors, no matter the season, and recently about the heartless break-ins at the Nicola Valley Search and Rescue compound.

Lately there has been a string of new stories involving various Search & Rescue groups. Every time a story like that shows in the news, we have to remember two things: that this is a free service by volunteers who put a lot of time and energy into it, both during training (not a one-time thing) and when called out for a mission.

The recent post-budget conversations have been diverse and, to be fair, we have yet to see a calm ending to the budget communications. There is always room for better, to put it kindly. Needs are constantly increasing and they are growing more diverse as the population increases; there is hardly a sector that will say they have enough to cover everything.

But when I read that so far, no money has been set aside for the SAR groups across the province, it made me uncomfortable. Let’s hope it is an oversight that will be corrected as soon as possible. Many people’s lives have been saved by these people and many people’s loved ones have been retrieved from treacherous circumstances where few of us would venture.

The calls have increased dramatically in the last years. From people seeking adventures in the backcountry, to people suffering from dementia who are getting lost, the calls keep coming and they are answered. Selfless is the word.

To be sure, we are not talking about a handful of volunteers doing what they can when they can. According to BCSARA, there are 2500 SAR volunteers in 80 SAR groups across the province, who are completing over 1700 tasks a year. There are prevention programs in place too, in collaboration with Adventure Smart. Since we are at it, please note that there is an Adventure Smart Trip Plan app, available free of charge on iPhones and Android phones.

Neither training nor rescue missions can be done without money. But… funds will run out on March 31st, unless the province reconsiders. Let’s hope they do. Because if these people live with the belief that every life and every call matter, no one should tell them otherwise.

From a practical perspective, the less time is spent fundraising, the more is available for the training and rescue. An important detail about fundraising for these groups as it appears on the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA): ‘Neither the BCSARA, nor the Search and Rescue groups recognized by the province as part of the Public Safety Lifeline solicit funding by telephone.’ Yes, there are some out there who are not afraid of bad karma and occasionally they call and ask for donations to support ‘search and rescue’ groups. SAR group never solicit by phone – please spread the word about this heartless scam.

Let’s hope the provincial government will reconsider and correct the oversight. If not, I believe we should all be ready to help as much as we can to ensure that funds are in place for these services to continue to exist. I cannot imagine a day when a SAR group would be forced to reconsider a mission due to lack of funds. Let’s make sure it never happens.

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