At midnight on a Sunday in September, John Lemond’s old-school pager rang. The president of search and rescue in Mission rounded up a skilled team of volunteers and went to Stave Lake to find missing boaters. The lake was pitch dark.
The four volunteers shut off the boat’s lights hoping to see a flicker in the distance. A flare is spotted at the end of the lake. It took an hour to reach the two adults and four kids stranded because of a boat mechanical failure.
“We pulled up beside them, and you could see the relief on their faces because all they had were swimsuits and towels,” said Lemond.
As the group loaded onto the small rescue boat, three SAR volunteers had to stay behind. It was 6:30 a.m. by the time the entire SAR group returned to Mission. A few hours later, many proceeded to their day jobs.
The busy crew has already received 38 calls in 2013 as of early October. The annual average is 25 calls. Lemond attributes the increase to the warm summer that has drawn more people to the backcountry. Since 1981, volunteers have saved countless people lost or stranded in B.C.’s rugged terrain. The non-profit group has evolved into a tight-knit and highly skilled team of 20. On any given day, members might be recovering a body from a car in Norrish Creek, rescuing a rock climber by helicopter on Mt. Robie Reid, or assisting another SAR team in a search for a despondent individual who walked off by herself, as was the case with the effort to find Erica Schmidt in Abbotsford. More searches are of the latter type, as smart phones and GPS devices have allowed people accidentally lost to find their own ways out.
SAR teams are uniquely trained to deal with highly technical situations. Various members have skills in swiftwater rescue, rope rescue, and advanced first aid. Call-outs inevitably require some fast figuring out on site as well.
“Almost always, the information you initially get is wrong. It’s not 15 km, it’s 10… Or the boat’s not green, it’s aluminum,” said Lemond. To be able to respond to just about any call, members train for 10 hours each month, and participate in longer specialized training several times per year. For instance, Envision Financial recently supplied a grant to have some members participate in advanced helicopter rescue training.
Ten additional people are currently meeting the basics of becoming Mission SAR members. They’ll need to pass a 100-hour Emergency Management B.C. curriculum riddled with various physical and mental tests. The ultimate will be surviving a winter night in wilderness with only rudimentary survival gear. “Because if they’re out there with a subject, they have to make sure they can look after themselves, and the subject,” said Lemond. It takes everyone working together as a team to get a tough task done, something that has drawn team member Boris Juracic.
“Ever since I came across these guys, it’s been great,” he said. “Our team’s good. The camaraderie. That’s the most important thing for me.”