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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

Coastal GasLink pipe continues to arrive in Terrace

Shipped by rail from Saskatchewan

No injuries reported following propane leak in Terrace

Hwy 16 closed off, businesses evacuated as emergency crews responded

Coastal GasLink stresses pipeline ‘on a schedule’ as B.C. appoints liaison for Wet’suwet’en

670-kilometre pipeline is schedule to be completed by end of 2023

Tough year ahead for the aluminium industry

U.S. market is still Canada’s most important

Kitselas receive $1.2M boost for apprenticeship development program, open to Tsimshian and Haisla Nations

Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education announces $7.5M for six Indigenous training programs

VIDEO: Feds look to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Sap thief taps Saanich park maple trees, faces hefty fine

One tree found with four taps in Mount Doug Park

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Uber threatens legal action to ‘defend its right’ to operate in Surrey

‘I have no concerns,’ Mayor Doug McCallum replies

Victoria resident says WestJet employee uttered racist comment, refused to let her on plane

Customer claims she was told ‘You guys can’t handle your alcohol’ by WestJet employee

Bystander who tried to help dog being attacked not liable for its death: B.C. tribunal

Owner of dog killed tried to get $5,000 in damages from man who tried to save it

INFOGRAPHIC: See how fast your B.C. city grew in 2019

The province’s fastest-growing municipalities were located on Vancouver Island

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

Alessia Cara to host and perform at 2020 Juno Awards

Multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter also up for six awards, including Artist of the Year

Most Read