Search and rescue teams sign agreement

Grand Forks Search and Rescue has entered into a unilateral agreement with Search and Rescue from Rossland and Castlegar.

Members of Grand Forks Search and Rescue at a training session.

Members of Grand Forks Search and Rescue at a training session.

by Brian Norwood

Grand Forks Search and Rescue (GFSAR) has a very successful although relatively quiet history of serving our community, but all of that is about to change.

Since early this June, GRSAR has entered into a unilateral agreement with Search and Rescue from Rossland and Castlegar.

When a call goes out it is now sent to all three teams who are then able to join forces and coordinate the search/rescue with other agencies.

It sounds good, and will become an excellent improvement of service to our collective communities but there are few stumbling blocks to overcome.

Only Human

A proper search team consists of a minimum of 10 volunteers.  This is not a number someone picked out of the air, but rather a number which has been proven to be the most effective use of manpower to perform the duties required in most search and rescue situations.

A proper search and rescue team consists of three units; each unit is made up of three people. Each of the three units are coordinated and managed by at least one SAR manager, bringing the team to a minimum of 10 members.

Currently the Grand Forks Search and Rescue team consists of 18 members.  This sounds good but “Houston, we have a problem.”

GFSR is comprised of ordinary men and women, some of whom you may already know. They work at the hospital, the local saw mill, in your favourite grocery store.

They have family responsibilities, pets, hobbies, they all have a busy life just like the rest of us.

When a rescue call comes in for a lost child, a mushroom picker who has wandered away, or a cross country skier that took a series wrong turn, only one out of three members will be available to respond to the call.

Working from a pool of 18 volunteers, this response factor drops the size of the rescue team from 10 down to five or six people, far less than optimal.

If the callout is in the Grand Forks area, the local team is responding immediately but they are also waiting for additional search and rescue personnel to arrive from another community.

Optimum performance time is being lost, often along with a rescuer’s best ally, daylight.

Looking For Help

Andrés Dean and his partner Mandi joined the GFSAR team a year ago and are really enjoying the experience. Here is what Andrés has to say to anyone interested in joining:

“Lots of great training, wonderful support from the old timers and a lot of fun.”

He added, “You don’t have to be a fitness nut to join. In fact I am surprised how little physical fitness plays in all of this. It is all about the training and working as a team.”

All your training is provided. Practical training and skill development is spread out over the year with members practicing on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

Upon joining the team you will be given the ground search and rescue basic course (SAR 100) provided by Emergency Management of B.C.

After completing the basics and as you progress with experience you will then undertake some additional training such as emergency first aide, avalanche search and rope rescue.

As your experience and confidence grows, you may wish to train for a special team such as swift water rescue, high angle rescue, tracking, or perhaps working with a scent dog.

There are many opportunities to develop a wide range of skills including communication and leadership.

Even if your physical mobility is limited, there are special positions where the GFSAR team could use your help. Radio communications, logistic coordination, assisting the SAR leader with agency and manpower coordination—all are vital roles and they are looking for new people.

In addition to the valuable contribution you will make to your community, belonging to the search and rescue team is like having a great second family.

The team is often adding on social events, camping, barbecues and a host of other activities often for the entire family.

This August there is a major SAR-EX (search and rescue exercise) in Castlegar.

Andrés says, “It’s like have a great adventure weekend holiday someone else pays for.”

All attendees will be given specialized training, participate in a major simulated search and rescue of multiple bear attack victims. Everyone gets helicopter time, and they are having a great barbecue party afterwards.

What You Can Expect

The GFSAR team is very excited about the new working relationship with Rossland and Castlegar.

Barry Savitskoff and Ivan DeLisle have more than 45 years of combined experience with GFSAR. This is how they explain the new agreement will work:

“On average GFSR expects to receive eight calls per year.  Now that we (Grand Forks) are tied in with Rossland and Castlegar, the number of calls will double or triple to around 28 calls each year.”

To understand the upside to this increase you need to think about this from the point of view of a volunteer.

Imagine yourself joining GFSAR and giving up time to train and practice because you want to help.

When you get a callout, even though you really want to respond, chances are you probably can’t get away for more than one or two calls per year to help on a real search/rescue operation.

For many volunteers this is discouraging. Volunteers want to help, that is why they do what they do, why they give up some of their weeknights and weekends.

Yes the training is fun and the team does a lot of fun things together, but it all comes down to being able to make a difference in other people’s lives.

In the past some volunteers have simply quit because they did not get enough opportunity to make a difference, but all that has changed now with the new unilateral support agreement.

With this new agreement combined with the current expansion level of recreational trails and activities in our beautiful valley, you can bet our GFSAR team is going to be busier than ever.

There has never been a more important time to get involved.

If you are interested and would like all your questions answered please call Ivan DeLisle 250-777-4826 or Barry Savitskoff, home 250-442-5818, cell 250 584-4846.

Another Way You Can Help

Even if you are not in a position to become a full member of the GFSAR team there are other ways you can help this worthwhile group of volunteers.

For example; right now they have a problem with their new command centre.

The command centre is a cube van from which the SAR leader can study maps, coordinate radio messages and oversee the search/rescue operation.

I toured their new command centre and couldn’t help but notice the flat TV screen which was donated a few years ago. It has recently developed some really interesting streaks of flashing light and wavy lines, which makes you think you are looking at a map drawn in crayons by my three-year-old granddaughter.  Truly artistic I might add, but not very helpful when you are trying to find someone.

Please someone help them acquire a new screen before they all go blind watching this thing!