Campbell River Search and Rescue (SAR) reports a rising trend in call volume. Image courtesy Campbell River SAR

Fatalities take their toll on volunteers as Search and Rescue calls climb

Campbell River Search and Rescue responded to nine fatalities in 2018 – and demand is increasing

Campbell River Search and Rescue (CRSAR) responded to more than 50 calls last year, including nine fatalities.

That’s according to Grant Cromer, manager of CRSAR. Calls involving injury or death can take a toll on members, he said in a media release on Wednesday.

“These calls expose our members to the emotional and physical risks of dealing with deceased subjects,” said Cromer.

“We deal with this through peer-based specialized SAR volunteers who are qualified to lead critical incident stress debriefings,” he said.

READ MORE: Family of deceased mushroom picker appreciates help of friends, community, Search and Rescue and the RCMP

“Our call volume was diverse this year,” he said, adding that CRSAR “participated in several large-scale multi-group calls that extended into multi-day searches.”

Calls fielded by CRSAR included missing or despondent persons, swift-water rescues, backcountry medical rescues and fatalities, Cromer said.

Figures released by the group show that call volumes have increased in recent years, rising from 30 in 2013 to 54 last year. The average during this period was 44 calls.

It’s part of an upward trend in call volumes at search and rescue associations across the province, according to Cromer.

Story continues below image.

Campbell River Search and Rescue (SAR) reports a rising trend in call volume. Image courtesy Campbell River SAR

He said that people increasingly expect fast responses.

“There is an expectation from the public that a helicopter will fly in and rescue them within the hour,” he said.

The reality is that responses often take much longer, Cromer said, noting that CRSAR is composed of volunteers who must assemble before responding. Obstacles may also include “inclement weather, extreme travel distance and logistics.”

READ MORE: Tragic conclusion to search for overdue hiker west of Campbell River

Wildfires posed a special problem last year, he said.

“We had all our helicopter operations grounded this summer for a few days due to forest fire smoke,” he said. “This might mean we have to hike 10 hours up a mountain to access a subject rather than fly in and out within two hours.”

He noted that CRSAR spends most of its non-operational time dealing with fundraising, gear maintenance and training. Negotiations about funding for SAR teams in the province have been ongoing with government “for several years now,” he said.

“Having to fundraise all of our operating costs every year is a huge burden,” he said, adding that “we never know year-to-year how much money we will raise to fund training and equipment purchases.”

The Campbell River group is the northernmost search and rescue association on the Island, covering all lands north of Oyster River and west to Gold River, along with “much of the inner islands and coastal mainland right up to Bella Coola,” he said.

READ MORE: Safety under scrutiny at Elk Falls, Campbell River Search and Rescue urges caution

The wide area means the group puts a lot of time into organizing logistics and travel, Cromer said.

“A typical out-of-town call might involve flying to Bella Coola to do a medical rescue,” he said. “We have to organize rescue personnel and equipment to fit into a helicopter, then perform a rescue in an unfamiliar environment, then bunk out in a police station or fire hall.”

But he said that members are resilient, and they have survival packs at all times.

Cromer also stressed that people should bring essentials with them whenever they’re travelling in the backcountry, noting that safe travel tips can be found at adventuresmart.ca and crsar.ca.


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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