The B.C. government has thrown search and rescue groups a lifeline, announcing $18.6m in funding over three years. File photo

East Kootenay search and rescue managers welcome new funding

Province announces $18.6m; funding to be divided according to groups’ response capabilities and needs

New funding for search and rescue (SAR) will be used by East Kootenay groups to replace aging equipment and recertify members in areas such as swift water rescue.

On Saturday, the B.C. government announced $18.6 million in funding for British Columbia Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), just one week before their current cash flow dried up.

LOOK BACK: Elk Valley Search and Rescue funding uncertainty causes concern

The one-time grant will support B.C.’s 80 ground search and rescue (GSAR) groups and 2500 volunteers over the next three years, and is in addition to the funding the Province provides each year for deployment costs.

Emergency Management BC (EMBC) has also been given funding for two additional staff positions to work with BCSARA on the development, and implementation of a new governance and funding model.

“In discussions with BCSARA, I’ve heard the ground search and rescue community’s strong concerns about the need for both an immediate infusion of funding and a clearer path toward long-term sustainable funding,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General on Saturday.

“That’s why we’re providing a record-level of funding as an immediate top-up of what B.C.’s GSAR groups are already receiving, as well as establishing a joint committee to move more quickly toward developing a sustainable funding model.”

Saturday’s funding announcement represents the single largest provincial investment in GSAR in B.C.’s history and a 24 per cent increase from $5 million per year in supplemental funding announced in 2016.

It follows pressure from SAR groups and their supporters, as well as local governments, with both the Regional District of East Kootenay and City of Fernie passing resolutions calling for a consistent and stable funding model for SAR.

LOOK BACK: RDEK, City of Fernie join search and rescue funding calls

BCSARA East Kootenay Regional Director Ed Ehrler couldn’t be happier.

“Not only does the announced $18.6 million mean that we won’t need to divert volunteer time toward fundraising instead of spending it training and responding to emergencies, but it also means that funding to essential province-wide programs, such as AdventureSmart SAR prevention and our Critical Incident Stress Management program, will continue,” he said.

“On top of that, the commitment from the Province to implement a sustainable funding model for SAR means that we shouldn’t find ourselves in the same position searching for funds three years from now.”

The new funding comes as a huge relief to Elk Valley SAR managers, who faced being left without any provincial funding for training, administrative support and equipment renewals as of March 31.

“We are delighted that the Province has decided to continue to invest in the B.C. SAR groups,” said Fernie SAR Manager Simon Piney.

“We would like to thank the decisionmakers involved and our many followers who were kind enough to write in and express their support.”

Piney said for Fernie, this removes uncertainty regarding important 2019 spending.

“We have to replace much of our rope rescue equipment due to mandated expiry periods,” he said.

“Our swiftwater team needs to run through its three-yearly recertification process and our CDFL (heli longline) team need to work on further skills development for technical terrain.”

Sparwood SAR has a number of items on its wishlist, however, had not expected to be able to afford them, having budgeted for no further provincial funding in 2019.

“Once we know the funding details, we will have to sit down and do some strategic planning and adjust our budget,” said Sparwood SAR Vice-President Andrea Murland.

“As far as equipment goes, we do not have any major purchases on the horizon but a number of smaller needs, such as upgrading some of our older handheld radios and some of our computer software, which is no longer supported.

“In the training department, we have been working hard to build competency on snowmobiles for winter travel, so we will be able to have team members attend courses. It has been a few years since we have done any live helicopter training and we have a number of newer members who have only had mock training, so we would like to improve in that area.”

Sparwood SAR is also hosting the annual regional training exercise for the East and West Kootenay in September and hopes to put the finishing touches to its cold storage building for equipment.

Murland said she was pleased to see funding for additional EMBC staff to work towards a long-term funding model.

BCSARA will use the grant to kickstart the Alternative Support Model, which was developed specifically for providing stable funding to B.C.’s SAR groups.

“Within that model is a plan for allocating funds to each SAR group based on their response capabilities and what training and equipment they need to maintain those capabilities,” said Ehrler.

“The plan was tested successfully with the $15 million provided in 2016/17 and we’re very happy to be able to continue with it using this newly announced funding.”

He added this funding is intended to complement, rather than replace, any existing funding arrangements that many SAR groups already have with local governments and other funding sources to cover portions of their operating costs.

BCSARA is yet to determine exact allocations but will work quickly to do so and distribute funds to each group.

For the past three years, the eight SAR groups in the East Kootenay region (Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, Cranbrook, Kimberley, Invermere, Golden and Revelstoke) have received just over $500,000 a year.

“I’m expecting the funding provided this time around will be similar or slightly more than that, to account for things like cost increases and new capabilities that some groups have developed,” said Ehrler.

“BCSARA also plans to hire some employees who will be able to provide support to the volunteers of BCSARA and the 80 SAR groups throughout B.C.”

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