When Pat Sears arrived in the parking lot of the Kent Harrison Search and Rescue base on Wednesday night, she wasn’t too surprised to see all the extra vehicles.
After all, an email had circulated the week before that piqued her interest, urging all members to be at the meeting. A special item had been placed on the agenda — something none of them would want to miss.
Sears also didn’t notice that her husband, John, had been acting funny all day and was hustling her out the door to be there on time. In fact, he had been anxious since the week before, forced to keep a secret from his wife of 37 years. He was one of a handful of people who knew that the meeting would focus on congratulating Sears for her dedication.
But supporting his wife — a SAR member, an accomplished sailor, and a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue coxswain — comes naturally to Sears, and so she didn’t suspect a thing.
The realization that she was the person being honoured didn’t hit her until members of the RCM-SAR started filing into the base’s small meeting room, along with several of her close friends.
“I had no idea whatsoever,” Sears said.
They were there to award Sears with a Life Membership, an honour currently bestowed upon fewer than a dozen of the organization’s 1,400 volunteers. Sears became involved with the RCM-SAR in 1992, when it was known as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. She was an active member until the couple moved to Harrison Mills about five years ago. But she kept up her membership, and last month someone nominated her for the Life Membership.
It was an easy, unanimous decision for the organization, said Greg Miller, vice president of the RCM-SAR. He outlined a few highlights of her career as a coxswain, or steersman, including a rescue in which 14 people were pitched into the water. While five people perished in that incident, nine were saved. That was only one of hundreds of marine incidents Sears attended to as coxswain, he said, and she has participated in thousands of hours of training over her 20 years with them.
But Miller also personally thanked her for bringing him up to standards.
“Pat is best known for her … calmness and her ability to train new members,” he said. “I want to thank you for your personal guidance and friendship. You are truly an asset to our station.”
Sears was on a team that represented the Pacific Region in 2002 at the first International SAR competition in Quebec, Miller told the group, and her team won first place for all of North America.
She was just as quick to tell everyone that Miller and Ryan Woodward (also in attendance) were also on that team.
Being on the water, and volunteering with the RCM-SAR, is “definitely in her blood,” Miller added.
It is that passion for the open sea that led her to volunteering in the first place.
“I’d been boating for several years,” she said. “And joining was my way of putting back into the community.”
She joined the KHSAR just a few months after moving here, and got involved with the Agassiz RCMP office as well.
Being a local Search and Rescue member doesn’t keep her as busy as her work on the open water, but she does lend a hand when it’s needed, both on the boats and behind the scenes.
Sgt. Stuart Falebrinza from the Agassiz RCMP detachment was also on hand to award Sears with a pin for her service to the RCMP.
While she’s had to stop volunteering over the last year due to illness from cancer and subsequent treatment, she has been on recent SAR call outs, including the recent body recovery in Harrison River.
The Royal Canadian Marine SAR attends about hundreds of incidents a year, and puts in thousands of training hours. In the last 12 months, they report having saved 162 lives and assisted 718 people in total.
Members interested in volunteering as RCM- SAR crew must also have boating experience, be able to meet the physical conditions of long hours on the water in rough conditions, be willing to be on call for 24 hours at a time over a five-day period, and live within a 15 minute call-out range from a dock or marina. Call (250) 480-2798 for more information on how to contact the unit leader in your area.