Robin Beech from Rossland Search and Rescue was suspended above Kokanee Creek from a guideline with a stretcher as part of the two day interregional search and rescue training at the provincial park near Nelson. Photos below: The swift water rescue training had SAR groups dressed in dry suits and safety gear to make their way up the narrow canyon of Kokanee Creek in the cold and rushing water with a stretcher on floatation to retrieve a dummy patient. SAR volunteers took their hover exit training on the lake shores of Kootenay Lake.

Massive search and rescue training

Approximately 130 rescuers converged for new skills program last weekend at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.

Nelson Search and Rescue hosted a large inter-regional SAR training exercise at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park last weekend. More than 130 SAR members from all over southeast BC travelled to take part in workshops and training.

The Canadian Forces 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron flew out from Comox with a Cormorant and a Buffalo aircraft to do down wash training and a large demo as did a local helicopter for hover exit training on the lake shore.

Nine other workshops included swiftwater rescue, rope rescue, tracking, recovery and survival. The ground search workshop became a real scenario as reports of a man missing from the campsite came in on late Thursday night, (September 4). Nelson Search and Rescue search manger and training officer Scott Spencer said there were 25 members conducting a grid search for Paul Tayes. “Anything more than that is hard to control,” he said.

SAR groups came from Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Invermere, Creston, South Columbia (Trail) Rossland, Castlegar, Kaslo, Penticton, Oliver, Osoyoos, Revelstoke, and Keremeos.

Nelson SAR manager Chris Armstrong said for the first time there was a formatted BC Coroners service workshop as more and more SAR are asking for proper training. There was also a high skill level technical rope rescue and some serious swift water training which had members literally making their way up Kokanee Creek.

Armstrong said enrollment was higher than the usual  50-60 participants. “We wanted to change it into a workshop format versus scenario based. It’s more attractive because it’s more technical.”

“The main goal of this is to work with other SAR members. Volunteerism is getting less and less so it’s harder and harder.” He explained that when SAR gets a call, it’s almost always a collaborative effort [with other area SAR]. “So if you’re hanging on a rope in the middle of the night, it’s good to know the person who’s on the other end of the rope.”

Nelson SAR has 38 members with training in marine, swift water, rope rescue and back country avalanche skills. They are all volunteers.

“These people are leaving their employment and their kids soccer practice to go save your life,” said Armstrong.

They get an average of 25-35 call outs per year. Armstrong said Nelson SAR are the seventh busiest out of 79 teams in BC, the busiest of which get 75-80 calls per year. Not including first responder calls, there are 3,150 SAR calls in BC with a 94 per cent success rate of finding a lost person in the first 24 hours.

The number of calls to Nelson SAR varies from year to year. “It goes in waves,” said Armstrong. “This year we’ve had 40 calls,14 of which were recoveries. “It’s been very hard for our crew as the average is 3-4 [recoveries].”

He said the economy, weather, avalanche conditions, and warm springs when kids are out all influence the number of calls.

He said October through January is their quietest time.

Their calls reflect the seasons. Fall is hunting season, winter is avalanche, spring is swift water rescue and mushroom pickers and summer is the tourist season.

What advice does Armstrong have? “Always have a plan and tell someone where you are going. Many people change their mind and go somewhere else. Take the essentials: a map, a cell phone, a SPOT or beacon, fire starter, warm clothes, and a light. Imagine what your would want if your day trip got changed into being stuck in the wilderness over night and think about what you would want to have; then bring it with you.”

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