Search crews prepare to head into the backcountry near Whitewater in February where a pair of Quebec snowshoers became lost.

Nelson’s Newsmaker of the Year: The calls into the wild

It’s hard to imagine another organization that has experienced such highs and lows in the same year as Nelson Search and Rescue.

Although it doesn’t normally make news on its own, it’s hard to imagine another organization that has experienced such highs and lows in the same year as Nelson Search and Rescue.

On June 29, the volunteer group broke ground on a new garage at the North Shore hall, which would finally give them a place to call home. The same day they lost one of their members.

The hall’s lease is the result of a long-term agreement with the regional district that will see half the basement converted into an office and training area and the upstairs made available a few times a month. The garage to store vehicles and equipment was recently completed.

“It’s going to give us a central location to work from where we have access to all of our equipment when we get a call,” search and rescue president Randy Lall said last week.

“People can come there, pick up whatever gear is required, put it in our response vehicle and respond appropriately. In the past we’ve had our truck packed with everything you could ever possibly need, to the point where we often didn’t have room for people.”

Lall says the new arrangement should be more efficient, improve camaraderie, and allow search managers a better space to work from than a truck tailgate. (Until the office space is ready, they’ll operate from a trailer inside the garage.)

However, soon after the groundbreaking came a call about a vehicle submerged in the Goat River. Search and rescue’s swiftwater personnel responded, including Sheilah Sweatman, one of their keenest members. It ended tragically, with Sweatman’s death.

“It’s extremely ironic,” Lall says. “It’s definitely been a challenging year for many people and continues to be for those immediately involved.”

While a coroner’s inquest is still to be held, Lall says they have not changed the way they do business, except “I think everybody’s more attuned to potential risks and doing everything we can to mitigate the risks. There’s been no underlying structural change or policy changes.”

One of their tasks in 2012 will be building a stone monument in Sweatman’s honour.

But before and after the above mentioned events, search and rescue continued to do what it does best: get people out of tight jams. Among other things, they:

• Recovered the body of Manfred Rockel, killed in a January avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Park;

• Rescued Creston snowmobiler Ken Gadicke, who plunged more than 25 metres down an old mineshaft near the top of the Kootenay Pass;

• Located a pair of lost snowshoers from Quebec who spent a night out in the Hummingbird Pass area near Whitewater;

• Rescued a CPR worker injured on the south arm of Kootenay Lake;

• Plucked Nelson’s Scott Newland from the middle of Kokanee Creek after he jumped in to try to save a friend’s dog;

• Helped one of the owners of the Ymir Yurts, who was hit by a tree at the end of Wildhorse Creek while clearing a cat trail.

Despite all that, Lall says if anything, it was actually a quieter year than normal.

“We were tasked approximately 30 times, which is average, but a lot of those we were stood down before we actually got going anywhere,” he says.

However, he’s “extremely grateful” for the community’s support, both in the wake of Sweatman’s death and in securing the agreement that let them lease the North Shore hall.

 

 

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