Saving lives is expensive work, and members of Hope’s Search and Rescue (SAR) say they’re worried the public’s safety will be put at risk if the government doesn’t step up and continue funding the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA).
In 2016, the then Liberal government announced two, one-time grants totalling $15 million for BCSARA, which were distributed to the province’s 80 SAR groups over the past two years. So when the NDP’s budget hit the table last month without a line item that would continue that funding, it left rescue groups across B.C. wondering, ‘what now?’
“The BC SAR Association had a few people working hard on it,” said Barry Gannon, a long-time member of Hope SAR. “I think they had high hopes that it was going to go through again, and then all of a sudden it didn’t.”
And with an operating cost of $25,000 “just to open the doors,” Gannon says the money will have to come from somewhere.
“If we don’t have the alternate funding (from the government), we have to look for funds … (which) puts a strain on all the teams in the province.
“And more time spent fundraising means more time on your executives, who have to figure out how to come up with enough money to operate.”
But most of all, Gannon said the lack of provincial funding is “going to affect the quality of training (they) have to go out in the field with.
“If you don’t have well-trained people on all the teams, they won’t have the skill level (required to complete successful rescues in dangerous terrain). So (we’re all) going to suffer if (we) don’t get the kind of funding that the government was giving.”
Because of Hope’s geographical location, the local SAR group is not only uniquely positioned to help in a variety of locations—ground, swift water, avalanches, etc.—it’s also one of five road rescue teams in the province.
“We get 50 to 60 calls of road rescue a year. That’s totally separate (from SAR and) the (lack of) alternate funding won’t affect that. But then, on average, we do (about) 30 calls on the search and rescue end,” Gannon explained.
“The biggest burden faced by SAR is continuously coming up with enough funding, (but) we’ll just have to start trying to find money.”
During the past two years, Hope’s SAR team was able to use the alternate funding from the government to administer the organization and get caught up on maintaining and updating all of their equipment.
“We’re in a better place than we were, but to keep the momentum going, the funding needs to keep going.
“I really hope the province changes its mind,” continued Gannon. “I think the biggest thing that will suffer is public education.
“We have a program, Adventure Smart, where special people are trained to go out into the community and educate the public on what to do if they get lost, and what to carry with them (while in the backcountry).
“It costs a lot of money to do that, and that will suffer hugely. We’ll have to find other ways to educate the public, (but it’s hard to fundraise or get gaming grants) to help education programs.
And although “Hope’s community has always been really, really good with funding us and stuff, I don’t think it’s fair for local businesses” to fully support us.
More often than not, SAR teams are called out to help tourists, rather than locals, which has some suggesting it should be a paid-for service. But Gannon warns against that.
“If you start doing that, then people are going to start hiding and it will make our jobs more difficult. They’re not going to call in like we want them to, which is as soon as possible.”
So, with dreams of a long-term funding plan from the government, Gannon says Hope’s team—and the 79 others across B.C.—are now scrambling to locate funds.
“We get a certain amount of money (from the government) for tasks we’re sent on,” said Gannon. “But it’s prorated and they don’t pay for any of the equipment required. So you’d have to rely on a lot of calls to (fund the organization).
“Everything is going to suffer if (we) don’t get the kind of funding that the government was giving,” he continued.
Other than funding, Gannon added the local group is also in need of more volunteers. “If you don’t have enough members, (the ones you do have can get) burnt out (and) it can be dangerous.”