Fernie Search and Rescue Manager Simon Piney wants provincial funding reinstated for SAR groups across B.C. File photo

Concerns rise as B.C. search and rescue funding set to expire

Province yet to announce new funding for B.C.’s 80 search-and-rescue groups

Search and rescue groups across B.C. could be forced to resort to bake sales and grant writing to cover their basic costs if provincial funding is not renewed by the end of this month.

In 2016 and 2017, the Liberal government announced two one-time grants of $10 million and $5 million for the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) to be shared between 80 SAR groups.

READ MORE: Fernie SAR rescues stranded snowmobiler, buried skier

There were hopes this year’s budget would include a long-term funding model for search and rescue, as proposed by BCSARA in 2015.

However, there was nothing in the B.C. Budget 2019 for BCSARA and SAR groups have been left scrambling with current funding to run out March 31.

The uncertainty comes amid increasing demand for search and rescue services in B.C.

“The 80 SAR groups across the province are now responding to upward of 1,700 incidents every year, which is more ground SAR callouts than in the entire rest of Canada,” said Ed Ehrler, the association’s East Kootenay director and Sparwood Search and Rescue manager.

“All of the ground SAR members in B.C. are volunteers – or unpaid professionals as we like to call them. There are over 2,500 of them and they’re on call 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.”

Ehrler said the teams do much more than find people lost in the wilderness. They also look for missing children or people with dementia, help with local emergencies and provide outdoor safety education.

The government funding is used to pay for basic costs such as equipment, insurance, vehicles and building projects. Ehrler said in the past, groups have spent tens of thousands of hours applying for grants, seeking donations and holding fundraising events.

“That’s a lot of extra work considering the SAR volunteers already give 300,000 hours of their time to B.C.’s SAR program each year,” he said. “And since none of those funding sources are guaranteed, it’s simply not a sustainable way to fund the critical emergency response services needed by so many people every year.”

Funding uncertainty puts tourism image at risk

Fernie Search and Rescue has more than 30 members who must maintain professional certifications in a wide range of skills, including long line rescue, avalanche rescue, swift water rescue, ice rescue and rope rescue.

Manager Simon Piney said these take “phenomenal” amounts of time to maintain.

“When we have to also add to that hundreds and hundreds of hours of writing grants, doing bake sales, lobbying businesses around town to make donations so we can do fundraisers, that’s where we get volunteer burnout,” he said.

As tourism and backcountry use increased over the years, so has the level of expertise and equipment required for rescues.

“The types of incidents have become more complicated and I would say also the expectations are much higher – people are hoping to see a helicopter when they probe their SPOT device, and they’re hoping to see advanced medical support,” said Piney.

LOOK BACK: SAR rescues injured dog after fall

If the province does not renew funding, many groups will have to return to grants and fundraising.

“The expectation of the public and our provincial association when our services are required is that we are responding in a manner that is safe for all involved, and that we are competent in the various environments, scenarios, and technical fields that we operate in,” said Sparwood Search and Rescue vice president Andrea Murland.

“That expectation is incompatible with ad hoc funding and it is time for the province to provide long-term, stable funding for the SAR groups in B.C.”



reporter@thefreepress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Just Posted

What’s happening in Cloverdale this weekend, March 22 to 24

Looking for something to do in Cloverdale this weekend?

Surrey mom says Liberal budget falls short in helping people with autism

Louise Witt, whose son has autism, says budget provisions like ‘putting a Band-Aid on a cancer’

Missing Surrey woman ‘located and safe,’ police say

Kayla Amy Smith, 30, who was reported missing last month

Cloverdale residents invited to review new town centre plan

Final public open house will take place Thursday, April 11, 2019

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Boy who went missing from park remains largest probe in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

Six ‘distraction thefts’ in two days spark warning to seniors by Vancouver police

Distraction thefts are used to steal jewelry off the necks of unsuspecting women

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

Motorcyclist dies after three-vehicle crash on old Island Highway

Accident happened at 12:15 p.m. Friday near Country Club Centre in Nanaimo

B.C. driver caught going 207 km/h on motorcycle along Okanagan Highway

A motorcyclist was caught by Kelowna RCMP going 207 km/h on Highway 97C

Protective human chain forms around B.C. mosque for Friday prayer

Vancouver Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

B.C. fire department offers tips to keep your home safe during wildfire season

With wildfire season getting closer, the Penticton Fire Dept. offer tips to keep your home safe

Most Read