As some Search and Rescue (SAR) groups across B.C. are voicing concerns over the absence of a new funding announcement for SAR, South Cariboo Search and Rescue (SCSAR) manager James Seeley is a bit more optimistic.
“There’s still time for them to come through with an announcement for funding.”
Most recently B.C. SAR was given a one time $5 million grant in 2017.
There are a total of 80 teams in the province and 17 in the northeast region.
“South Cariboo Search and Rescue is one of the only teams that receives any kind of funding right now aside from the previous funding the B.C. Search and Rescue organization gave us.”
SCSAR currently receives about $23,000 a year as a result of a referendum that was passed a number of years ago, says Seeley. That money comes from a special assessment of about 80 cents per $100,000 of assessed property value in Cariboo Regional District areas G, H and L as well as the District of 100 Mile House. SCSAR, however, isn’t a CRD SAR group and Seeley says they prefer it that way. They also receive a small amount of money separate from that from the CRD and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District bringing their total to about $24,000, he says.
For many other teams in the province, it’s a different story and don’t have a reliable source of funding, meaning they have to resort to things such as writing gaming grants, corporate donations and bake sales.
“Many, many teams are under the gun for finances. Our finances, the money we get, covers all of our insurances for our trucks, buildings, our equipment, our directors. All of that. It covers all of our existing equipment repairs and some replacement. It covers a minor amount of training. Training is hugely expensive when you start looking at swift water rescue, rope rescue training, avalanche response, helicopter orientation,” he says. “We just make ends meet with what we’ve got.”
However, it does cut into their training budget and equipment replacement and repair, says Seeley. An example of one thing they will need to replace is their Gore-Tex dry suits. They have 10 but the suits are 10 years old and are starting to get rips and tears. With their existing budget, they can maybe buy one he says.
With the funding they received in recent years from the province, they built an addition on the SAR hall to house a new rescue truck, bought a new truck (with the help from other funding sources like RBC, Taseko Mines, the Lions, the South Cariboo Wildfire Relief fund and a B.C. gaming grant). Many of the teams looked at provincial funding as a good way to fund SAR, says Seeley, with many SAR not even having a hall. When BCSAR handed out that funding, they also required SAR groups to report back what they did with the money.
“This year there is no money coming in right now and the teams should not have expected it but they were disappointed that the government didn’t realize how responsible the teams were, how necessary that funding was.”
However, even if the province doesn’t make new funding available, there’s something to be hopeful about. The SAR groups have all been writing individual gamin grants each year which historically has resulted in about $9 million in grants.
Some have been arguing to give that $9 million a year straight to BCSAR, similar to what they do with the hospital foundation, says Seeley. From there, BCSAR would then distribute it to the teams who have now proven it through their records that they’re spending the money adequately.
“B.C. Search and Rescue Organization and the Liberal government were very, very close to an agreement on this. And when there’s a transition of government, when the NDP came in, they had to look at it again and they’re very, very close to this alternative support model. I would not be surprised to see that alternative support model actually comes through maybe not this year but next year.”
Even if they can’t make that happen for this year, maybe there’s still an extra $5 million out there that they just haven’t announced yet, says Seeley.
“So there was disappointment from many teams across the province and it became an issue because Search and Rescue is just historically underfunded. Teams are scrambling to find the money for resources, for buildings to house their equipment, for response vehicles, for training purposes.”
Seeley says they do about 15 to 18 calls a year with a lot of them being people lost or stuck in the woods, although he adds the calls can be anything.
“Most of these people are very responsible and take very good care when going out there.”
Seeley says he’s really impressed and proud of the people who volunteer for SCSAR.