It has been one of the busiest summers on record for search and rescue groups across the province.
In July, Emergency Management BC recorded 333 search and rescue related events. That’s the busiest July for the volunteer groups on record.
The large number is a concern to the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), which represents the province’s 79 ground search and rescue groups.
“This is an undesired record for any year,” said Jim McAllister, BCSARA board member. “It is more worrisome a record has been set during a pandemic.”
SAR groups conduct about 1,700 tasks each year with July and August typically being their busy season. According to the BCSARA, July’s tasks involved nearly 3,000 volunteer members, with some SAR groups between four and six tasks in one 24-hour period.
“This level of calls does put a strain on our members,” said McAllister, “but the challenge they have now is they have to protect themselves and the subjects from COVID-19. This requires a significant amount of personal protective equipment during the operation and decontamination after each one.”
Campbell River Search and Rescue (CR SAR) hasn’t been immune to rising calls.
Grant Cromer the manager of CR SAR, said that as of Aug. 18, their team was at 47 calls in just eight months.
“SAR call volume has risen dramatically in 2020 all over the province. COVID- 19 may have a part in that, as people have been cooped up and are anxious to get out and recreate. We don’t know the reason for sure, but the numbers show dramatic increase all over the province and SAR teams are being tasked out 2 and 3 times a day for multiple rescues,” said Cromer.
In July this year, CR SARresponded to 15 tasks, while in July 2019, they responded to nine, according to data from Emergency Management BC.
The group is having a busy start to August as well, having responded to four tasks so far this month, compared to four for all of August last year, the data indicates.
At the end of July, members responded via helicopter to rescue an unconscious woman on the North Coast Trail.
Due to limited light and pending nightfall, 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron was requested, said Corp. Phillippe Garneau, CH-149 flight engineer.
He said the flying conditions were “ideal” and the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter arrived within an hour. SAR technicians hoisted down to the patient, conducted a medical assessment and hoisted the patient, their hiking partner and three ground SAR members. The patient was transported to Comox and transferred into the care of local emergency health services.
“Overall, the mission went very well,” he said, “and we’d like to remind people to be careful when doing any backcountry hiking: know your own limits, go with someone and, above all, be prepared.”
It wasn’t the only call 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron has assisted with recently.
On July 27, they were called to assist Campbell River SAR and Alberni Valley SAR members with evacuating three hikers from technical terrain near Margaret Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park.
On Aug. 3, they were also called to assist Campbell River SAR with rescuing a hiker near Mt. Thelwood in Strathcona Park.
With the growing number of SAR tasks, the BCSARA is asking for the public’s help in flattening its curve.
“We are currently heading in the wrong direction,” said Dwight Yochim, senior manager with BCSARA. “With August being our busiest month normally, July’s numbers are very concerning. We need the public’s help to flatten our curve.”
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