Visitors who arrived to walk the suspension bridge across Elk Falls Canyon or view the falls and rapids Saturday morning got a bonus as several dozen volunteers held a search and rescue training exercise.
Hosted by Campbell River Search and Rescue, the exercise included members of the Comox Valley and Arrowsmith search and rescue groups. As some groups set up ropes for entry and extraction, other members rappelled down the rock face of the canyon just above Elk Falls, swam downstream beyond the suspension bridge, and were lifted back up the canyon wall. All of it took place in full view of a constant stream of visitors, tourists and guests who pointed and snapped pictures.
“Mommy! There’s a man in the water!” one young girl shouted as she crossed the bridge.
“It’s very realistic,” said Tim Fairbank, head of Campbell River SAR. “If we had to come and do a rescue here someday, we would be working in among the public. It’s important we let them know it is just an exercise; we don’t want them worried that something’s gone wrong. But we also completely welcome the chance to give them an opportunity to see what it is we do, how we do it.”
The training exercise provided SAR volunteeers a chance to work on rope rescue, swiftwater rescue and long-line rescue techniques and equipment, while also fine-tuning communications, logistics and public relations protocols.
Later in the afternoon, SAR swimmers continued down the river and were airlifted by helicopter, which was provided by West Coast Helicopters.
“This is a training exercise that we only get a chance to do every four or five years,” said Fairbank. “It allows us to get our members down into that canyon where they might be needed to do a rescue or recovery some day, so they know how it all works, what it’s like in there and how they’re going to get out.”
The SAR command trailer was set up in the parking lot of the John Hart Project interpretive centre, where members chatted with visitors to explain their presence at the park. More SAR volunteers were stationed at the suspension bridge and the overlooks, where they fielded more questions from curious onlookers.
“It gives us a chance to work on our public relations skills, which is something we are expected to do,” said Fairbank. “We like to let everyone know we exist, that we are out in the community, and we can be called when we’re needed.”