By Kristian Rasmussen
A treacherous stretch of highway now has limited road rescue services after a nearby search and rescue group announced cancellation of their road rescue efforts.
Golden and District Search and Rescue has removed all road rescue services on the Trans-Canada Highway between Rogers Pass and the Glacier National Park Boundary. The stretch of Highway 95 between Golden and Spillimacheen is also now without road rescue beyond that offered by the RCMP.
“We were getting a lot of volunteer burnout and decided that the road rescue side of things is not where we should be heading,” said Shauna Speers, Golden Search and Rescue president.
“In Golden, just like Invermere, everybody wears the same hats. We are all resourcing the same people all the time. For sheer self preservation we decided to pull the service.”
The rescue force was also feeling the pinch of financial pressure. The funding that the group receives through the provincial government’s gaming grant was mainly focused on subsidizing road operations, instead of being split between mountain and highway coverage, Ms. Speers said.
The province is being vague about what will occur in the event of an emergency on the highway, she added.
Golden’s fire department is not legally able to leave the jurisdiction of the town and the police department is limited in its ability to respond to major accidents.
“If a major accident happens, the province said they will send the best and closest resource,” Ms. Speers explained. “Who or what that will be I am not sure.”
The province has already approached Invermere Fire Rescue, which has the only dedicated road rescue vehicle in the north end of the valley, to see if they can help to cover the unprotected area.
“It was brought up to me and I told them ‘No,’” said Roger Ekman, Invermere’s Fire Chief. “It is an hour-and-a-half just by car to Golden. By the time we get there it is too late and it leaves my whole area unprotected.”
The loss of a rescue program in the region is a sad event because it is a service that the public requires and expects, Fire Chief Ekman added.
Under the provincial remit of the ‘best and closest resource’ being sent to attend, Invermere’s fire department could be ordered to help out with major accidents around Golden, he added.
“If it came down to that crunch I would send a four or five-man team,” he said. “They wouldn’t take the rescue truck and would just take our portable tools. Hopefully that doesn’t have to happen.”
Invermere Fire Rescue’s catchment area for accidents that require roadside extrication with the rescue truck stretches north of Invermere to Harrogate, into Kootenay National Park up to the Alberta border, and south of Invermere to the Windermere fire protection boundary.
The costs of maintaining a road unit are not something that Columbia Valley Search and Rescue can afford to bear either.
“You need specialized training and equipment,” said Steve Williams, Columbia Valley Search and Rescue president. “It would put a lot of strain on our personnel and it is a significant amount of extra work and time.”
The extra time and financial cost of dealing with road accidents are only parts of the equation, Mr. Williams said.
“There are a lot more fatalities in terms of road rescue that you wouldn’t normally see on the mountain,” he added. “It puts more stress on personnel.”