Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, November 19, 2018. 

Every now and then certain news makes me go silent. ‘How is that possible?’ is all I can think. Such was the case of the recent break-ins (yes plural, since it happened in two consecutive nights) at the Merritt compound of the Nicola Valley Search and Rescue. In one word: heinous. The organization, like the rest of them across B.C., is run by volunteers. An admirable group of people to say the least. You’d think even a thief (or however many) would just believe enough in bad karma and skip the ‘job’.

After the two consecutive-day break-ins, $8000 worth of equipment was missing and while some of the less expensive stuff has since been found, most of it is still missing. This means that should there be any calls requiring some of that equipment, they could not be honoured. It sounds extreme, but the one line that sums up the implications of this callous act is: people might die because of some heartless individuals who could not stop themselves from robbing a search-and-rescue compound of all places.

Sadly, this is not a first. In 2015, the Surrey Search and Rescue was hit by robbers who made away with $5000 worth of equipment. Again, it’s gut-wrenching to think of it. Akin to robbing a hospital, a fire station or the paramedics. Which, thank God, does not happen… except that sadly, yes it does.

On August 11 of this year, a vehicle drove into Quesnel hospital with the intention of robbing an ATM. On September 7, at least 150 expensive wigs designed for cancer patients at B.C. Children’s Hospital were stolen from a store on Broadway Street in Vancouver (appraised at $2,500 each, you do the math.) In the same category, a Lower Mainland salon that makes wigs for children and women affected by cancer and other diseases, was robbed five times in five years.

Firefighters also see themselves robbed. You may remember last year’s Harrop wildfire in the Kootenays; water pumps and 10 lengths of hose were stolen overnight. The fire was a scary 655 hectares but that did not stop the thieves.

On-call volunteer firefighters in Mission got robbed of personal possessions in July of 2015 while attending an emergency call. Volunteer firefighters in Popkum got robbed twice over the course of a few days while out on a call. Not only personal belongings but radios and pagers too. How low is that?

I was never in a position needing the services of the Search and Rescue Volunteers, but when my husband and son (my son multiple times) needed immediate help, we were beyond grateful to have paramedics and firefighters attended to with life-saving equipment at hand. Imagine for a second that some of that equipment was stolen…

I also know people who needed to be rescued from sticky situations in the wilderness and many rescue stories can only be qualified as amazing. A quick look at the incidents charts over the years reveals a sharp increase in land incidents, which means, among other things, that these volunteers who put their lives on the line need all the equipment they can get. Simply put: we cannot do without them.

What would be the right punishment for the individuals who rob them and other emergency services personnel and their equipment? Paying a fine, serving a couple of months in prison? Neither seems to address the real issue. Could work-until-you-pay-it-back be the answer? After paying it back maybe some volunteer work?

How do you create empathy in a person that demonstrates none to begin with? Of course, we can argue that every person carries a story and unfortunately some stories are downright ugly and cruel, and the people who live through them often become the same. But I am a strong believer that in some cases people can be shown a better way. Through hard work and programs set in place that would see them uncover better ways for themselves and the society they live in.

Also, we ought to ensure that our children learn empathy. At home, in schools, we should make sure the focus is not on political correctness but on justness and empathy. A world where heartless acts are disappearing under the rug of so many other news (not necessarily by ill-will that is,) is not good enough. We ought to raise standards to all that is in our power; in how we raise our children, in how we educate them, in how we set up our judicial system.

Once again, here’s to hoping that sooner than later we can see a justice system that is simply that: Just! Meanwhile, I am hopeful that some donations will be made towards volunteer organizations such as search-and-rescue groups, the recently robbed Nicola Valley included, that can see them recover their loses and be further able to purchase equipment that ultimately benefits us all.