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Posted: July 8, 2013

Search & Rescue funding a growing priority

e-KNOW Editorial

If it weren’t for volunteers – we’d be hooped folks.

It doesn’t matter what societal aspect you care to focus on – remove the volunteer quotient and there is no whole. In most cases – there is nothing.

Continued government downloading – a favoured sport of governments everywhere since the late 1980s – has meant certain key services once considered a given that they’d be government-handled have fallen into the hands of volunteers or employees who answer to volunteer boards.

Like all volunteers, they are giving, community-first souls whose efforts help jack up our collective quality of life.

We are lucky enough to have thousands of such souls in the East Kootenay – in every community.

They make government’s lives much easier, too. Consider the number of people involved with volunteer fire departments, auxiliary police constables and search and rescue organizations – and their mostly volunteer efforts. They fundraise so they protect and rescue us, serving as perfect supplements to the RCMP, BC Ambulance, ski patrols and other emergency/public/private safety organizations.

BCSARAimageAn increasingly important component of our volunteer emergency and safety sector are search and rescue groups.

As the population of our region grows and as tourists continue to discover the sprawling backcountry awaiting their arrival, the need for well-trained search and rescue personnel is magnified.

These are the men and women who pull you off cliff faces, from canyons, from deep forest and water and more often than not they are the people who save lives. They are also the people who contribute countless hours in ongoing searches, such as we have seen in recent weeks in the Findlay and Bull River, when the prospect of lives being saved becomes finding bodies and providing closure for grieving families.

It is not work for the faint of heart or half-committed; the danger involved making the volunteer nature of it all the more giving.

These are the people we turn to when our loved ones have been swallowed by Mother Nature and in British Columbia, with an epic landmass of 944,735 square km (364,800 square miles), the vast majority of it Crown land, and 27,000 kms of coastline, they tend to be a busy bunch.

There are eight search and rescue groups in the BC Search and Rescue Association’s (BCSARA) East Kootenay sector: Columbia Valley; Cranbrook; Elkford; Fernie; Golden & District; Kimberley; Revelstoke; and Sparwood.

“In any given year Search and Rescue groups in BC respond to nearly 1,000 incidents involving over 1,300 missing (lost) or injured persons. Our 2,500 unpaid professional volunteers, located in more than 80 B.C. communities are available day or night.  Together these men and women donate over 100,000 hours of their time on callouts annually, and an astounding 95% subjects were found or rescued within the first 24 hours of a volunteer SAR group being activated.  This volunteer service offers tremendous value for citizens and visitors alike.  The cost to replace this volunteer service in direct salary dollars alone would exceed $5,000,000 annually (excluding infrastructure and capital costs, which are estimated at over 50 million dollars). BCSARA is proud of its role in making this service better,” states the BCSARA website.

Now, considering all that SAR groups do for us, you’d think there would be government money flowing into the 80 plus organizations that provide the vast majority of support in times of emergency in the backcountry and front country. Sadly, you’d be wrong if you thought that.

Despite enjoying the prestige of the mythical tourism opportunities in this province, as well as the tax dollars, Victoria tries its best to lay in the weeds and hope ‘the locals’ will look after themselves when it comes to safety beyond the cash-strapped Mounties and cash-strapped BC Ambulance.

Sure enough – everyone is cash-strapped nowadays and we get that and we also understand that finding dollars to spend where not spent before is like making an old dog do new tricks.

But given the right incentive, an old dog will take a shot at a new trick.

With that we ask all our elected officials to start thinking about ways search and rescue groups can receive more funding. And don’t start going on about Columbia Basin Trust (where would our volunteer groups be without CBT?) – that spring is already being tapped.

It’s clear that money is short – but the creation of a program that would provide some sustainable funding for SAR groups would be the right thing to do in B.C. Perhaps government can find taxation forgiveness for corporations willing to make sizeable donations. And the considerable support already being provided by many corporations toward funding volunteer groups cannot be understated. A bit more incentive might just loosen up a few more purse strings.

For more on the BCSARA or regional SAR groups go to: .

meIan Cobb/e-KNOW

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