What does it take to be a member of one of the dozens of search and rescue groups across the province?
That’s the question Vancouver-based author Cathalynn Labonte-Smith wanted to answer when she wrote Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue. The freelance writer of 40 years said she was inspired to write her third novel after her husband joined a search and rescue group on the Sunshine Coast.
“I saw what he did and I realized a lot of people don’t know that for search and rescue, the members are all volunteers. They think they’re paid and don’t treat them with a lot of respect so I felt that the public should know who they are and the kind of people that they are,” Labonte-Smith said. “They’re truly selfless people and they’ve spent hundreds of hours training to do the work they do in all kinds of conditions.”
For the book, Labonte-Smith said she reached out to 60 search and rescue personnel from across the province, both retired and active. From these interviews, she gathered several stories that represent what being a search and rescue member is all about.
One of these interviews was with a founding member of South Cariboo Search and Rescue James Seeley. The 108 Mile Ranch resident said he was happy to answer her questions and shine a light on search and rescue groups outside the Lower Mainland.
“It was just great that somebody wanted to look at this and actually put out some real information about what search and rescue teams go through,” Seeley, 71, said. “The more of a media spotlight that we get the more people can understand the dedicated individuals across the province who work hard at this and do a really amazing job at being search and rescue personnel.”
Seeley, a retired professional firefighter, said he helped found SCSAR in 2001 shortly after coming to the community. At the time he said there was no official search and rescue group in the South Cariboo. Instead, the area relied on an “ad-hoc group of individuals” when an emergency arose.
When the Provincial Emergency Program, since renamed Emergency Management BC, saw this gap they put out a call for volunteers to join a dedicated search and rescue program. Seeley joined as a way to give back to his community and meet new people.
In Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue, Seeley shared a story of a successful rescue from the mid-2000s. At the time he was the SCSAR’s rope rescue team leader and was called out to Hendrix Falls.
He said a man and his dog had been out for a walk when the dog went over a cliff. After the pet owner was dissuaded from rescuing his dog himself, Seeley said SCSAR was called to rescue the stranded pooch.
“We put some spotters up and down the canyon by Hendrix Falls and found where the dog was and then two of us rappelled down,” Seeley said. “We wrapped the dog in webbing, clipped him to us and then pulled him back up. It was one of those oddballs stories that had a happy ending and I love happy endings.”
Labonte-Smith said not all the stories she gathered had such a positive result. Sometimes she said the stories were intense and disturbing, especially when the subjects of the story didn’t survive. She noted, however, that many of those she talked to seemed unburdened after sharing about their experience.
The fact Seeley was a founding member of SCSAR made his interview extra special, Labonte-Smith said. He seemed like an amazing person and she was impressed by his dedication to the organization.
Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue is available now at Chapters and Amazon with Labonte-Smith inviting the community to order a copy at their local independent bookstore. Seeley said he’s already ordered two copies and looks forward to reading them when they arrive.
“I don’t want to discourage people from going out into the outdoors, but the book certainly encourages you to be prepared,” Labonte-Smith said.