It was a big surprise and a gift from the government, says Wendy Heatherington, Search Manager for Kimberley Search and Rescue.
She is speaking of the announcement that came out late Tuesday that the province has committed a further $10 million for ground search and rescue. The one-time funding will help bolster training, administrative support and equipment renewals.
“It’s a small army of 2,500 volunteers that comb the province’s backcountry, rappel into steep ravines and weather the worst of the elements, while leaving behind the comforts of home to go seek and find those who are lost or injured,” said Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto. “Their selflessness is woven into the fabric of their service, and today’s investment continues on our commitment to strengthening them and the tapestry of public safety throughout the province.”
The province already supports Search and Rescue throughout the province with $6.3 million in funding for training and operational costs, Heatherington says. They also pay liability insurance, which runs about $200,000 per year.
“But this $10 million is in addition to that. That’s the most exciting part.”
And the money is only for ground search and rescue. The Coast Guard and Air Services are funded federally.
It is not clear yet how the funding will be allocated. Heatherington says Kimberley Search and Rescue will do a gap analysis to see what kinds of needs they have in regards to equipment and training.
Prior to this announcement, Kimberley Search and Rescue, as well as others in the region, have relied on donations and grants.
“Most Search and Rescue teams in B.C. are societies so we can access grants. And in this area, the Columbia Basin Trust has been very helpful,” Heatherington said.
“And we rely on donations as well. Teams donate time to provide first aid for events and we earn some money that way.”
While the announcement was a surprise, Heatherington says that BCSARA has been working with the province to try to come up with funding models.
It couldn’t come at a better time, because ground search and rescue teams are busier than ever and rescues are getting more complex, she says.
“We are seeing a lot more calls. Five years ago, we maybe had six to ten calls a year. Last year, we had over 20. People are accessing the backcountry more now. And they should. This is an incredible and beautiful province. But people not familiar with it don’t recognize how quickly a situation can turn around.”
Heatherington says that British Columbia search and rescue teams answer two thirds of all search and rescue calls across Canada.
“We respond to most of the calls in Canada and the terrain is more extreme and calls are increasing in complexity.”
“The service that search and rescue groups provide in their communities is recognized as an invaluable asset to the people of this province and today we welcome the additional support of the B.C. government to help strengthen the work that’s being done,” said president of BC Search and Rescue Association Chris Kelly. “While we continue to work with the province on the proposed alternate support model for search and rescue, this money will help relieve some of the funding pressures and provide for increased training and other tools for those who tirelessly serve as volunteers.”
“We are fortunate within B.C. to have such a dedicated group of individuals who make serving the safety of others their passion,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone. “Within ground search and rescue there are roughly 100,000 hours of volunteer time donated to searches; to replace these would cost more than $5 million annually in direct salary dollars. We are grateful for their commitment and in turn, government is strengthening its commitment with this one time grant.”
“We all know it takes a whole community of frontline workers like police, paramedics, fire fighters, coroners, and volunteers like those from search and rescue, to keep our communities safe,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris. “Public safety is our number-one priority and this additional resource will help bolster support to the front lines of search and rescue operations in communities throughout B.C.”