Search and rescue volunteers look for an overdue hiker in the mountainous terrain near Gold River, B.C. Photo by Campbell River Volunteer Search and Rescue Society – Facebook

Demand for Campbell River Search and Rescue volunteers keeps growing

Training is a crucial part of being a member of Campbell River Search and Rescue (CRSAR) and its one of the areas most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And keeping up with the increasing demand of the past 10 years but especially the past year means there’s a constant need for new recruits. Then on top of that is the increasingly more challenging nature of Search and Rescue callouts.

CRSAR has about 48 members right now, CRSAR Society president Tim Fairbank says, and they would have gotten more through their training but the organizatino is limited as to what it can do right now.

The membership numbers are generally higher than what they’ve seen over the last five or 10 years.

“But it does sort of match what’s going on in our lives in that 2020 was – by a big margin – our busiest year yet,” Fairbank said.

CRSAR had over 80 actual tasks which resulted in over 100 individual callouts (meaning some went on for more than two days.

“So, that was about 20 per cent over our previous year,” Fairbank said.

The nature of the calls changed somewhat too.

“We were sort of surprised in 2020 by the increase in technical calls too, particularly up in the mountains – areas where we weren’t just, you know, able to land a helicopter and pick up someone with an injured ankle or something but having to use our rope systems,” Fairbank said. “So, that tells us that, yeah, we have to keep the training up.”

And that’s been the biggest frustration with regard to COVID-19, Fairbank said.

“Nevermind the social gatherings, it’s the ability to train properly,” he said.

There are certain areas of training that are crucial and can go ahead with participants masked up but all the other kinds of training not done over the computer are on hold.

But they still manage to get things done. In 2020, CRSAR volunteers put in a total of 10,280 hours of training, call outs, administration meetings, etc. Compare that with 2019 when volunteers put in over 15,000 hours.

“That was your record number,” Fairbank said.

Last year was the busiest year for callouts but 2019 was the record year for actual volunteer involvement.

And 2021, how’s that looking? Well, a few weekends ago, CRSAR had three calls going on simultaneously at one point, a first any longtime CRSAR members can remember.

“So, it could be another busy year,” Fairbank said.

The theory is that with COVID-19 travel restrictions, people are heading locally into the mountains instead of going away, although there is some evidence that people are more willing to call for help, especially with an increase in satellite beacons and communications equipment.

But despite the pandemic impact on training and recuritment, CRSR is still taking on volunteers. Notices for interested people to apply are usually put out in the fall.

The average age of trainees is around 32, which Fairbank things is due to the kind of work that people are coming to town for – there’s stil a lot of forestry work. But there are also who can work from home and so can live and work anywhere.

The group has embarked on a survey of members asking how it is doing on equity, asking women volunteers if they feel they are being trated fairly, are they getting the training they’re asking for, are they getting sent out on jobs in the field, are they as likely to get the same technical assignments as the males in the group? The same approach is also being taken with new recruits, making sure that the veterans aren’t getting all the plum assignments and less-experienced members are stuck with the less-skilled work.

“We’re trying to dispell the rumour that you have to have been around for 20 years before you ever get to fly on a helicopter,” Fairbank said.

“Overall, we’re doing pretty well in that regard,” Fairbank said. “We identified a couple of areas where we needed improvement and we’re taking sold steps to work on that. We’re pretty pleased, members were open to that process and we’re trying to be leaders within the region.”

The typical CRSAR volunteer is someone who is active in the outdoors already.

“Almost everyone comes to us with outdoor experience, skills, yes,” Fairbank said. “And that is something we look for.”

Although, there are exceptions, he said, if there is someone who perhaps has skills in information technology or maybe industrial ropes and rescue systems.

And their reasons for joining tend to be focused on doing something that makes a difference in the community.

“The most common answer to that question is simply, you know, the opportunity to make a difference when people need help,” Fairbank said.

To find out more about Campbell River Search and Rescue Society and becoming a member, visit www.crsar.ca.

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Campbell River Search and Rescue received 64 calls for service this year, up from 54 in 2018. Campbell River Search and Rescue photo

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