In the Paper
Taken from the Westerly News
The year 2003 was a busy one for the Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue (WISAR) Society. In addition to over 3000 cumulative volunteer hours logged by WISAR members, the society improved its radio communications and equipped and began training a rope-rescue team. Throughout all this activity, WISAR also managed to quadruple its number of trained volunteers.
Brock Fraser, a WISAR member, is pleased with last year's progress. “We came a long way in 2003. In October of 2002 we were down to five active searchers. The Westerly News ran an article that brought 30 interested people to our recruitment meetings in Tofino and Ucluelet. By April, 20 new people graduated from a 100-hour GSAR [Ground Search and Rescue] course.”
Following the GSAR course, WISAR volunteers were trained to perform embankment rope rescues. In addition, two new members became certified Ground Search Team Leaders after passing a course put on by the Justice Institute of BC. “The skill building and refreshing never ends,” said Fraser. “We usually hold one search exercise per month, and one additional rope team exercise per month.”
The WISAR team had seven call-outs in 2003. One happened at 5:00 PM on Christmas Day, when a hiker became lost below Radar Hill in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Tim Webb is the President of the WISAR Society and a Search Manager. “We had thirteen members in town that day. All of them gave up their Christmas Dinners to participate in the search.” The hiker was found at 9:00 AM on Boxing Day.
Last April, the WISAR Society received a $35,000 grant from the federal government’s New Search and Rescue Initiatives Fund (NIF). The funding was used to purchase radios, rope-rescue equipment, stretchers, and equipment for searching exposed coastal shorelines.
Jean E. Murray is the Executive Director of the National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS). The NSS was established in 1986 following the Ocean Ranger oil rig disaster. The Secretariat coordinates activities of agencies providing search and rescue services to people in distress throughout Canada. Last year, the NSS allocated over $8 million to approximately 100 projects. “The fund demonstrates our continued commitment to improving Canada’s search and rescue system. We’re very proud of the WISAR Society improvements, and of the wealth of expertise and experience found in Canada," said Murray.
“Last year's accomplishments are the result of contributions from all around our community,” said Fraser. “The federal government gave us the NIF grant, the province helps us through the Provincial Emergency Program. The Ministry of Transportation donated mobile radios for road searches. We had donations from the Ucluelet Lions Club, and from private individuals. Our volunteers gave up time with their families, and they purchased their own search clothing and gear."
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve helped the WISAR team and permitted the use an office for training and meetings, occasionally provided a rescue vehicle to shelter search managers, and supplied geographic information system (GIS) maps for searches. Six members of the WISAR team are employees of the National Park.
Fraser hopes that contributions made by employers of WISAR volunteers are recognized. “Some employers let our people leave work on a few minutes notice, or allow them to change schedules when they have been out searching all night.” Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, The Wickaninnish Inn, Far West Foods, Ucluelet Co-op, Mainstream Canada, The District of Tofino, BC Parks, Emcon Services, and Lookfar Solutions all employ WISAR volunteers.
Will 2004 be a year for the society to relax and wait for the phone to ring? “Probably not,” says Webb. “This year we’re going to focus on improving skills such as tracking, and safely searching exposed coastline. We want to improve our maps, and work on our incident command infrastructure. We have applied for another NIF grant which would really help coordinate multi-agency responses to large searches.”
The WISAR team has already had its first call-out of 2004. A 56-year-old woman failed to return home on the evening of January 12. RCMP called WISAR when it determined the woman was a regular visitor to Tonquin Park. Teams began searching the trails and shoreline of Tonquin Park at 2:00 AM on January 13’th. The Alberni Valley Rescue Squad, and the Canadian Coast Guard joined the search later that day. The search was called off at noon on January 14’th, when RCMP found the woman in a Ucluelet coffee shop. As a follow-up to that search, WISAR held an exercise on January 17’th, and removed flagging tape left in the bush by searchers.
Since its incorporation in 1999, the WISAR Society has provided ground and inland water search and rescue services to local police authorities. Anyone wishing to help the Society can contact them at P.O. Box 702 in Ucluelet, or by sending an e-mail message to email@example.com. The Society is a registered charitable organization and can issue income tax receipts for donations.