Metchosin Search and Rescue search manager Andrew Spray is one of six recipients of a Public Safety Lifeline Volunteer Award. Spray, a Metchosin resident, received the lifetime achivement award. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

Metchosin SAR member receives prestigious award

Andrew Spray’s work with search and rescue spans four decades

Andrew Spray remembers the first successful rescue conducted by Metchosin Search and Rescue like it was yesterday.

It was well after dark when the local group received a call about a grandmother and grandson who were lost somewhere along the trails of China Beach in 1991.

When Spray first got the call, he admits he had a feeling of mild panic, but quicly shook it off as he made his way from his home in Metchosin to the beach just west of Jordan River.

Police officers on scene deployed search dogs, but, after some time, failed to find the lost hikers. Then it was Spray’s turn. He set off with others in the group around midnight, entering the beach from a different access point. Within roughly half an hour, a group was able to locate the missing grandmother and her grandson.

“It’s very satisfying when the subject of your search is found and is in good shape and appreciative of the efforts that have gone in to finding them,” Spray said. “Those times can be very satisfying.”

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Since then, Spray has conducted dozens of rescues. Now, the long-time search manager is being honoured for his work. Spray is one of six recipients of a Public Safety Lifeline Volunteer Award, which recognizes volunteers’ outstanding contributions to search and rescue, emergency social services, emergency radio communications, air and road rescue.

During a ceremony at the Legislature on April 17, he received the lifetime achievement award.

“I was very pleased and surprised,” said Spray, whose daughter accepted the award on his behalf as he was out of town the day of the ceremony. “It’s nice to be recognized when there are so many others who deserve even more recognition.”

Spray’s dedication to search and rescue dates back to 1977 when he became involved with the Provincial Emergency Program in his third year as a faculty member at Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific.

As part of Pearson College Land Rescue, Andrew spent a lot of time on cliff rescue and carried out a number of technical rescues in the Goldstream Provincial Park and the Mount Finlayson area, as well as leading a number of missing person searches on lower Vancouver Island.

A few years after the District of Metchosin was incorporated, Spray was instrumental in establishing Metchosin Search and Rescue in 1988. Spray, now 73, is the only founding member that’s still involved.

Spray was also responsible for preparing a new manual for ground search and rescue for the emergency program, much of which is still used to this day. He also served as the SAR advisory board representative for South Vancouver Island for three years.

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Jack Buchanan, fellow search manager with Metchosin Search and Rescue, said the group collectively agreed to nominate Spray for the award, as he’s served as a mentor for many managers and members of the team.

“He’s one of these people with a lot of background, really great at thinking through the puzzles of where somebody might be. As someone who came in as a junior manager under him, sometimes you get these really experienced people and they want to do everything as it was 20 years ago,” Buchanan said.

“I found him really supportive and making sure to give these newer managers who are working with him the ability to grow and develop as managers, and open to other people’s ideas.”

With the number of callouts rising in recent years, Spray said Metchosin Search and Rescue have had a number of successful rescues. But there have also been some with sad endings. Despite callouts like those, that doesn’t stop Spray from pulling on his red and black search and rescue jacket and helping others.

“There are a lot of people in the volunteer search and rescue that put in lots and lots of hours and more than I have. I think they all deserve to be recognized,” Spray said.

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