The parking lot at the South Cariboo Search and Rescue headquarters is buzzing with excitement on a Wednesday evening as the team meets for its weekly training.
Several members are gathered next to one of the large equipment trucks, packing large duffle bags with gear to take on an upcoming swift water rescue course. They laugh as they size up wetsuits and try on lifejackets, making plans for one of many adventures the crew will attend as they challenge themselves to learn more lifesaving skills.
The family atmosphere among the 38-member SAR squad is evident, something team leader Val Severin says is essential given the nature of what they do.
“There has to be a certain level of trust among us,” Severin explained. “When the rope rescue team has a first aider over the edge of a vertical edge, they have to have complete trust in what the team has done and what they’re doing above them above the cliff. Their life is in our hands.”
Coming off a busy summer of deployments and assisting with wildfire evacuations, the SAR team wasted no time jumping into training.
The next few weekends are booked for courses to upgrade or re-certify certain skills like water rescue and vertical rope technique. For many on the team, who work full-time jobs and come from all walks of life, involvement in SAR takes up a good portion of their free time.
“It’s a big commitment for sure,” Severin said. “I’ve missed Christmases with my family for doing what we do. It isn’t something to be taken lightly, but it is really enjoyable with a lot of unique experiences that you won’t get anywhere else.”
New member applications are being accepted and Severin said the team welcomes anyone to come out on a Wednesday, meet the team and see if it might be a good fit.
“You don’t have to have an outdoor background to come,” Severin said. “It’s actually better in some cases to have folks with less knowledge because then they’re more receptive to learning different routines.”
Successful applicants start with a basic Ground Search and Rescue course, which is taught in-house by Justice Institute of BC instructors and takes about a year to complete. A probationary period and a criminal record check are also mandatory for new recruits.
Training is integrated between existing members and new members, which Severin said helps to quickly build a bond between new and old team members.
Beyond basic training, the team also offers swift water rescue, avalanche response, technical rope rescue and ice rescue training.
“All SAR members are required to have Level 1 first aid, so we provide that as well,” Severin said.
The majority of equipment required to train for SAR is provided, but prospective new members need to have their own personal gear packs – with supplies to survive up to 72 hours – as well as adequate footwear and clothing.
On this particular Wednesday, the majority of team members are taking part in “boring stuff” – meeting to discuss budgets and planning. Guy Hildebrand, however, is in the garage bay of the building helping colleague Jean Swann with her vertical rope training.
Hildebrand has been a part of the South Cariboo SAR for about 10 years and said in addition to the friendships he has made over the past decade, he enjoys continually challenging his skills and knowledge.
“Ropes are a great part of the program, there is a lot to learn,” Hildebrand said. “Every time I come here, I’m learning something new.”
Hildebrand is one of many longtime SAR members with the local group. Severin said at least half of the members have been with the group for more than 10 years, and several others for more than 15 years.
Though the work can be gruelling at times, she said it’s equally as rewarding to be able to help families during the most stressful circumstances.
“For me, it’s the closure we bring families,” Severin said. “And sometimes the outcome isn’t always what we would hope. But being able to bring closure to whatever the situation is, is super rewarding.”
To find out more about the South Cariboo Search and Rescue team, call 250-395-3210 or email email@example.com