The 27 members of the Kent Harrison Search and Rescue (KHSAR) saw a relatively quiet year in 2018.
Over the course of the last 12 months, the team was called to only 37 incidents compared to an average of 50.
“(That) is the lowest we’ve had in pretty much 12 years,” Neil Brewer, search and rescue manager, said. “There’s no real rhyme or reason.”
This low number is part of a slight trend, as what Brewer called “incident density” has shifted from the Fraser Valley to the Interior, the northern part of Vancouver Island and Vancouver’s north shore.
This year, the low number of incidents could partly attributed to the poor air quality from the province’s wildfires.
“Some people say it’s the smoke,” Brewer explained, “people aren’t venturing out as much because of the smoke from the fires.”
In total, the volunteer team worked over 1,000 hours in search and rescue operations, dealing with everything from body searches to high-angle rescues to wildfire management. (KHSAR members spent 3,924 total hours volunteering, including training and event participation.)
“It’s been a bit of everything,” Brewer said.
Unlike in the past, search and rescues on the lake were actually less common than land-based rescues. The number of launches at Harrison Lake was also down in 2018 compared to other years, Brewer said.
“The lake does create quite a few incidents, but I would say not as many as it did proportionately 15 or 20 years ago,” Brewer said.
“Fifteen or 20 years ago, we did more on the lake than anywhere else. Now it’s actually fewer incidents overall, in comparison to land-based incidents.”
Of course, that didn’t mean they didn’t happen. In early June, 30-year-old Gordon Dunn died of an apparent heart attack while riding his Sea-Doo on Harrison Lake.
KHSAR was paged to the location and joined local ambulance and fire already on scene, attempting to resuscitate the victim. He is reported to have died before reaching the hospital.
KHSAR also saw several searches in the Fraser River in 2018, including one in July for a body near the Agassiz Rosedale Bridge. The search and rescue team were also involved in the search for Shawnee Inyallie, a 29-year-old Hope woman who had gone missing sometime in July.
“SAR had a limited involvement because RCMP did most of the searching from a helicopter,” Brewer said. “But they did have a big last ditch effort.”
The Indigenous woman’s family had organized many searches of their own, while RCMP kept an open investigation into her disappearance. Inyallie was eventually found dead in the Fraser River in Delta.
Land rescues were far more common this year for KHSAR, with the first incident of the year coming from a man who decided to walk from Bear Creek Campground to Harrison on Jan. 3.
The man had intended to hitch a ride from someone travelling to the nearby hot springs, but rough weather meant few cars were up there. He was not dressed for the weather, and eventually called 911 for help.
KHSAR picked him up in one of the team’s four UTVs (utility task vehicle, similar to an ATV) and drove him back to town. The vehicle was the first of KHSAR’s UTVs to have snow tracks, which enabled the rescuers to move quickly through the snow.
“The only problem was, the tracks threw the snow back into the UTV,” Brewer said. “So they came back looking like the abominable snowmen.”
As a result, KHSAR spent around $5,000 to enclose the UTV with doors and a roof, to prevent the driver and windshield from being covered in snow.
The summer saw KHSAR’s first time being called to a fire, when the side of Mount Hicks burst into a 100-hectare wildfire this August.
“Normally we would never get called on a fire call. But I think because we are quite an important part of the emergency program in Kent (and) Harrison … everybody is more aware of each other’s capabilities,” Brewer said.
The search and rescue team was largely there for logistics support, Brewer said. He said the Agassiz Fire Department had called in KHSAR to help manage the radios when the fire first started, and also build fire lines on farm properties on Kamp Road after several weeks of it burning.
It’s not common for search and rescue teams to be called to wildfires like this, Brewer said, but “because it was a community disaster scenario, we’re part of the resources to address that.”
“One very well-known guy in the SAR community called SAR the duct tape of emergency services,” he said. “And it’s true.”
A few changes are on the horizon for KHSAR in 2019, including the introduction of a new command vehicle.
The truck, which was first brought on board in the early 2000s, houses KHSAR’s mobile command centre. This includes several computers for organizing the operations, a radio station, maps, and a small galley kitchen.
“Not a lot of changes” will be coming with the new command vehicle, Brewer said. “A few tweaks that we found over the years. Nothing really major.”
The building the new truck will cost the team $225,000, but will provide them with more towing capacity so they can pull the additional trailer with a generator, washroom and heater. The new command vehicle is expected to be complete by October 2019.
KHSAR volunteers will also get official training on the province’s new rope rescue procedures in 2019. One member has already been certified in the procedure — which is very similar to the old method of rope rescues, except that it uses slightly different equipment and techniques, The rest are expected to be certified within the year.
Continuing from 2018 is the boat launch surcharge, which this year brought KHSAR nearly $6,000.
Brewer said KHSAR will not file a grant application to the Village of Harrison, and instead use the funds provided by the surcharge.
“The money that’s coming to SAR is coming directly from boat launch fees and not from the tax base,” Brewer said. “I know some people are not happy about paying more to launch their boats, but I’d rather see that than us taking away from another non-profit in the Village.”
-with files from Nina Grossman