Kimberley Search and Rescue President Peter Reid would like to once again convey the important, potentially life-saving message to the public that people do not need to pay for their services if they need help.
Reid said there are two main things people seem to misunderstand when it comes to SAR, one being that it is a completely volunteer-run organization and the other that they do not ever charge for rescue. SAR is effectively a service provided by the B.C. government and either the BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) or the RCMP are responsible with tasking SAR if the 911 call merits it.
If people do delay calling 911 for fear of incurring a hefty charge, Reid says the results can be “catastrophic.”
“I don’t think people recognize the safety requirements that we have as an organization before we’re allowed to respond,” he explained. “The other problem of course is the drama of T.V. would show that we’ll put on our red capes and run out there at any time of the day and without regard for ourselves, which is just not true.”
One of the hindrances is that BC SAR isn’t able to respond by helicopter at night, the only volunteer helicopter search and rescue group in B.C. with the capability to do so is North Star. According to Reid, they are currently running a specialized helicopter equipped with infrared equipment. The rest of the organizations need to wait until daylight.
They are able to respond at night if there are no avalanche conditions present, so the risk in their response diminishes as we get into the spring and summer. They do, however still have to consider the safety of their members.
“We would much prefer to be notified immediately and I can tell you that BCEHS would feel the same way as well as the RCMP,” Reid said.
He gave the example of Canmore woman Patricia Paul who fell down a steep, icy slope while hiking in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park on March 27 and was severely injured.
“Her response was delayed because nobody had cell service, and would have had to hike back almost to the highway to get reception. Can you imagine if they didn’t want to call anybody and waited for the next day,” Reid said. “It would be catastrophic. So it’s hugely important that people understand that they should feel comfortable to at least call 911 and get the process started.”
SAR teams’ response time can vary greatly. Reid explained that first BCEHS would receive the initial call and go out to the scene in an ambulance and would then evaluate the scene and determine whether or not to call for assistance from SAR.
This means that it could be up to an hour and a half before SAR is even notified. Reid said his initial response team is always at the ready and can be on the road within 15 to 20 minutes, but then if it’s another hour or hour and a half to get to the scene, the injured person has now been waiting for at least three hours.
“Now it didn’t take us an hour and half to get there, but it took us a while to get out there and you can imagine that that person is now in a position where there’s not a lot that can be done for them until we can evacuate them,” Reid explained. “It’s the middle of the night, we can’t use a helicopter, otherwise we would have long-lined her out of there.”
In this particular rescue, the team had to put the severely injured Paul into a basket stretcher and walk her up the side of the slope with three attendants maneuvering around large boulders. BCEHS did a great job, Reid said, as they had a med-e-vac ready and waiting in Fairmont that transported her away for more advanced care.
“So all of those pieces work together, but we are in the back country, people need to understand that it could be quite a long time before help’s going to be there and lots of cases we’re going to be called as an afterthought.”
This is why it’s so important to make the call to 911 as soon as possible in an emergency situation. You will not be charged and it could make a tremendous difference in how and when you are rescued.