Volunteers and visitors connect at the Columbia Valley Search And Rescue open house hosted on Wednesday, January 31st. Photo by Dauna Ditson

Columbia Valley Search and Rescue seeks new volunteers

CV SAR opened up their operations for public to come take a look

Columbia Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR) is on the search for volunteers. CVSAR held an open house on Wednesday, January 31st in Windermere for prospective volunteers and interested community members. Recruits from the coverage area – which stretches from Canal Flats to the Alberta border to Spillimacheen to Duncan Lake – are wanted and needed.

Steve Talsma, CVSAR manager, encourages residents to volunteer.

“It’s a super interesting way to give back to the community if you live here and enjoy the outdoors. The satisfaction in helping your community is really rewarding.”

Mr. Talsma knows the rewards first hand. Close to a decade ago, he was involved in a search that still stirs his heart. Back then, a three-year-old boy went missing in Sparwood. It wasn’t clear if he had wandered off or been abducted. Mr. Talsma went to the rescue and was part of a search team that combed the area for the child.

As his team searched for the missing boy, they combed an area twice as large as the range they anticipated he could have gone. They searched for days and with such precision that Mr. Talsma said they knew with 98 per cent certainty the child wasn’t there. This information aided the police because it meant they could rule out that the boy wandered off.

The child, who had been abducted, was returned home unharmed. The man who abducted him remains in prison.

When the child was returned, his family brought him to see the volunteers who had been searching for him. Mr. Talsma remembers watching the boy playing with a ball with the volunteers.

“It just sticks,” he said. “It’s really satisfying.”

David Hubbard, a CVSAR training officer, also finds his experience as a volunteer gratifying.

“I’d go out in the bush myself. I know the threats that are out there. I realized through my experience how easy it is to get turned around and lost,” he said. “People are vulnerable if they get lost.”

Mr. Hubbard recalls a recent instance where a hunter got lost and called 911 for help. The call was traced to a general area. CVSAR went to the rescue and asked the hunter to fire his gun so they could identify his location.

“I was worried for him because we knew it was getting cold,” Mr. Hubbard said, adding that the man wasn’t prepared to spend the night outdoors. The 911 call came in at 1 p.m., and the “very thankful” hunter was found at 6:30 p.m., just before dark.

Mr. Hubbard said he enjoys being part of a team that “works together for positive outcomes,” and said the vast majority of CVSAR missions end well.

CVSAR was called to support 22 incidents in 2017. The number of annual calls for support has been increasing because more people are coming to the Valley to hike and ski and have other adventures, Mr. Hubbard said.

He added that advances in equipment like snowmobiles mean that the wilderness is becoming more accessible.

Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Talsma are looking to expand the CVSAR team. Mr. Hubbard will be offering a two-month training program for volunteers that will start in February or March. Volunteers will spend eight hours a week learning search and rescue techniques, navigation, first aid, shelter building, wilderness survival and more. The training will culminate with a mock rescue, where volunteers will locate a missing person, apply first aid and evacuate the person on a stretcher. The volunteers will also build their own shelters, where they will spend the night.

Mr. Hubbard said he is looking for students who are dedicated, fit and familiar with wilderness activities for the course, but added that CVSAR also has volunteer roles for those with any background.

CVSAR relies on grants and donations and on dedicated volunteers that Mr. Talsma said are considered unpaid professionals. “It’s volunteer. It’s based on people giving their time. If they didn’t do that, there wouldn’t be this service in a community,” he said. Mr. Talsma said he has a great deal of respect for people who volunteer and go to the rescue whenever they are called. “When these people are out in the middle of the night or jumping into a river or climbing into a helicopter, I want the community to know what they’re doing.”

To find out more about volunteer opportunities or to register for Mr. Hubbard’s volunteer training, residents can call CVSAR at 250-342-0600.

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