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Nechako Valley Search & Rescue volunteers spent over 3,000 hours on searches 2023

In this file photo, Nechako Valley Search and Rescue members are seen doing flat ice training for winter operations. In a report to the council presented on May 13, Chris Walker highlighted the achievements and challenges faced by the team in 2023.(Submitted photo)

Christopher Walker, president of Nechako Valley Search and Rescue (NVSAR), presented the team’s annual report to the Vanderhoof Council on May 13.

Walker stated that in 2023 they encountered an average number of call outs, but saw a notable increase in evacuation notifications.

Last year the NVSAR acquired a rescue boat to bolster response capabilities and additionally, the team undertook community service initiatives, such as maintaining ski trails in Riverside Park and participating in events like the Parade of Lights and Pumpkin Walk. They also participated in the Tim Hortons Holiday Smile Cookie Campaign.

Financially, NVSAR secured grants amounting to $17,000 for crucial equipment upgrades and received a generous donation of a pickup truck from Enbridge. Furthermore, NVSAR obtained grants and donations from Rio Tinto, the District of Vanderhoof, and the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.

Throughout 2023, NVSAR volunteers devoted an impressive 3,042 hours to various search and rescue tasks and training activities. Twenty individuals contributed to these hours, which is 500 more than the previous year, Walker said.

Notable tasks undertaken by the team included searches for people reported missing from Saik’uz territory, Jay Raphael and Chelsey Quaw Heron, a dog rescue along the Nechako River, assisting distressed boaters at Fraser Lake, and a recovery operation on Highway 16 at Meier Road. The team also responded to a missing pipeline worker and issued multiple evacuation notices, among other duties.

Training remained a cornerstone of NVSAR’s operations, with a focus on diverse skill sets such as hover exit, ice rescue, and advanced search and rescue methodologies. The team welcomed new Search and Rescue Managers (SARMs) and Medical Incident Technicians (MITS) while advancing Swiftwater Rescue Technician training.

By the end of 2023, NVSAR boasted a total membership of 29 individuals, including search managers, team leaders, and water rescue team members. Six SAR members retired last year, three of whom had been with the team for over 10 years. Despite these successes, NVSAR faces challenges in volunteer availability.

Walker noted the difficulty in retaining volunteers beyond a year, as the training process to become a certified SAR member typically takes around nine months, and members often leave either midway through training or shortly after.

Efforts were made to attract and retain volunteers, with a focus on improving response times and exploring joint training opportunities with local fire rescue services. Expanding the roster of certified instructors was also identified as a priority.

“We’re also working on improving our response time, as we are the primary task group for Swiftwater response within Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake detachments,” he said.

Walker highlighted a unique challenge regarding specialised training that NVSAR volunteers need to undergo for recognition by the province and the Justice Institute of BC. Volunteers often have to travel outside of NVSAR’s response area in northwest BC for courses, but frequently encounter cancellations due to low registrations.

“With small team sizes and reduced recruitment, volunteers are being stretched thin, often taking on three to five different roles within the team,” he said, adding “This added workload contributes to burnout, particularly considering that many volunteers also have full-time jobs.”

About the Author: Binny Paul

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