Search and Rescue’s bright new future

A generous donation helped Cranbrook Search and Rescue purchase a permanent new headquarters

Cranbrook Search and Rescue volunteers (left to right) Bruce Gilday

Cranbrook Search and Rescue volunteers (left to right) Bruce Gilday

It’s been quite a year for Cranbrook Search and Rescue.

Last Christmas, the volunteer organization took delivery of a new ground search and rescue truck, fully equipped with everything they need to look for people missing in the backcountry.

In June, they bought two side-by-side ATVs to help with ground searches.

And in April, a single anonymous donor gave the group $180,000 so they could purchase a permanent home.

In between, 2013 has been one of the busiest years ever for ground search and rescue, which has responded to about 15 calls since January. In 2012 – also considered a busy year – they responded to 12 calls.

Now, it’s hard to believe that three short years ago, Cranbrook Search and Rescue (SAR) was operating out of a single bay in a shack behind the old fire hall.

“I’ve been involved with volunteer groups for 30 years and for me, walking to that back alley and seeing the little shed, it was just another SAR,” said Greg Bedwell, SAR president, who moved to Cranbrook from Terrace five years ago.

One truck was kept inside the bay; another older truck was kept outside. Both vehicles were packed with equipment.

In 2011, when Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services moved out of the old fire hall next to city hall, SAR moved in, temporarily renting the space.

Last year, they started looking for a permanent home.

“We decided we needed more room to work and expand,” said Greg. “We started looking for places to rent or lease.”

The criteria was tricky: it needed to be east of the railway tracks so rescue vehicles weren’t held up by trains. It should be close to the highway for rapid response. They needed somewhere large enough to hold the two vehicles, a trailer, and have space for storage and training.

As Search and Rescue began to hunt for property in earnest, they got good news. Actually, pretty incredible news.

“A longtime local resident approached us with a significant donation,” said Greg. “He had two stipulations – one is that he not be known to anyone but myself and my wife. The other was that the money go towards the purchase of a building. He didn’t want to see us stuck paying rent or lease payments.”

When all was said and done, that anonymous donor gave Search and Rescue $180,000 towards the purchase of a new headquarters.

“My hands were shaking when he handed me the cheque,” said Greg.

“We had a really good down payment. It put us in a position where we could afford a reasonable location.”

In April, Search and Rescue moved out of the fire hall and into its new location at 38 7th Avenue South. It’s less than a block from the highway and just about smack dab in the middle of the strip.

The 4,500 square foot building, which used to be an auto body shop, has been totally renovated. It has heated flooring, a meeting room, office space, a kitchen and bathroom, and plenty of storage.

SAR still has a mortgage on the building, which it will cover through donations and government grants.

Those government grants have proved very helpful over the past two years. On top of the five-year-old state-of-the-art highway rescue vehicle with the Jaws of Life, Cranbrook SAR last year used B.C. gaming grants to purchase a new ground rescue vehicle. It has plenty of space to carry rescuers, can charge a generator, and lots of nooks and crannies for gear.

This year, gaming grants allowed Search and Rescue to purchase two side-by-side ATVs in June, which will be used on ground searches in the backcountry.

“They are going to be a great asset to us. We have done a few calls where we thought we could use them,” said SAR volunteer Nick Bedwell.

One of only five highway rescue teams in B.C., Cranbrook’s highway team consists of about 14 rescue volunteers. Each year, the team responds to between 80 and 100 calls.

The ground search team has about 16 volunteers.

SAR trains every Wednesday night, with sessions alternating between the highway team and the ground team. Volunteers have the opportunity to be trained in both, but it’s not a requirement.

Everyone involved with Search and Rescue volunteers their time, which can quickly add up to more than 200 hours a year.

“Time is at a premium because we all have our regular jobs,” said Greg.

What’s more, mutual aid agreements see Cranbrook Search and Rescue respond to emergencies all over B.C.

“We could be called to go anywhere. Our team leaders can be requested throughout the province,” said Greg.

Many businesses in the community throw their support behind Search and Rescue, he went on.

“Every year we like to thank our supporters. We rely on these people a lot. Some give us thousands of dollars, if not physically then in-kind,” said Greg.

Now, Cranbrook Search and Rescue has adequate equipment and vehicles to respond to emergencies throughout the region, a host of volunteers to carry out the work, and a headquarters that will see them well into the future.

“People expect this for every SAR group – and why not?” said Greg, indicating the building, vehicles and equipment that make up Cranbrook Search and Rescue’s bright new future.

To donate to Cranbrook Search and Rescue, phone 250-919-7759 or email sar@cranbrook.ca.