Saturday’s memorial service for Sheilah Sweatman, the Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer who died last month in the line of duty, will be open to the public.
“This is about everyone in general,” says past president Joe Vingo. “It’s a chance for the emergency services to show their respects, but also for the community to come out. To this point we haven’t had that.”
The service begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Lakeside soccer fields.
Sweatman’s family is expected to attend from Winnipeg, along with visiting dignitaries and emergency personnel, including hundreds of search and rescue volunteers from around the province.
Anticipating a large crowd, organizers are encouraging people to arrive on foot, and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Traffic will likely be disrupted, as vehicle access and parking at Lakeside Park will be closed from 11 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday.
The corner of Lakeside Drive and Hall Street near the airport and the main access to the Chahko Mika Mall at the corner of Poplar and Front streets will also be closed Saturday morning, as will the airport from 9:30 to 11 a.m.
An honour guard made up of search and rescue and emergency services personnel from throughout the province will march from the airport to the mall, and then to the soccer fields where a stage will be set up for the memorial.
The public is welcome to watch the parade.
While the exact number of out-of-town participants hasn’t been confirmed, Vingo says at least 30 search and rescue groups in BC will be represented.
There will also be a flotilla involving the Nelson Search and Rescue boat and other craft, and discussions are underway for a fly-by involving Provincial Emergency Program search aircraft.
“It will be a very structured, formal ceremony,” Vingo says. “It’s also a way for us to thank the community for the support we’ve received. This has been a real tough time for us.”
Sweatman, 29, drowned in the Goat River near Creston while on a mission with a swift water rescue team to recover a submerged vehicle.
A family funeral has already been held in Winnipeg, attended by half a dozen search and rescue members from BC.
Permanent memorial planned
Sweatman’s death ironically came on the same day that Nelson Search and Rescue broke ground on their future headquarters at the North Shore hall.
Vingo, who spent 15 years as the organization’s president, says a permanent memorial will be erected in her memory there.
“They’ve asked all the search and rescue groups — especially the ones attending the memorial — to bring a rock or have one shipped to Nelson,” he says. “A cairn will be constructed from all these rocks and a plaque erected. It’s not just a tribute from Nelson Search and Rescue, but from every group in the province.”
Vingo got to know Sweatman over the last 2½ years during her service with the organization, and says she earned a reputation as one of the most dedicated members, rarely missing a practice or call.
“She certainly was super keen to come out and learn and train,” he says. “She was always there. Inevitably if she was anywhere in the area and capable of responding she would be out.”
Vingo wasn’t present when the accident occurred, but arrived within hours. He says it was a sober reminder that despite their extensive training, there is always risk involved in their missions.
“It’s one of these things in the back of your mind you’re always aware of,” he says, although he never envisioned a fatality.
The swift water team Sweatman belonged to also has members from Creston, Kimberley, and South Columbia search and rescue.
Following her death, they had little time to grieve before completing their grim task.
“You can’t imagine the circumstances and the situation,” Vingo says. “They recovered Sheilah’s body and then the car the following day in just an amazing, professional manner.”