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

Victoria City Council approves inclusionary housing policy

After years of back and forth, the policy will be ratified in two weeks

Filipino Heritage Month event takes over Centennial Square

Dancing, music and food highlight Mabuhay Day celebration in Victoria

West Shore residents report finding anti-SOGI 123 flyers in mailboxes

SD62 trustee Ravi Parmar says the flyers are ‘garbage’

Saanich woman runs marathons to make dreams come true

Hempler gutted her way through 122 kms with minimal breaks, to support Help Fill a Dream Foundation

Victoria Weekender: What’s happening this weekend, June 15-16

Car Free YYJ, a barber battle and an Outdoor Discovery Day

Monkey spotted on late-night jaunt in Campbell River

Conservation officers also apparently looking for cougar in the area

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Homalco tour gives glimpse into area’s ‘People, Land, Water’

First Nation business mixes cultural components with wildlife excursions

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

Most Read