Two-time Olympic medalist Beckie Scott brings cross country skiing and happiness to Alberta communities.
“What is the biggest challenge that search and rescue professionals face right now?”
Shane Elder, to whom that question was put, was quick to find the answer.
“The biggest challenge is sustainability,” Elder said. “More than ever we have to make sure we get funding to volunteers. A lot of us are entirely self-funded.”
Elder is one of the corps of search and rescue (SAR) professionals in Alberta meeting this weekend in Edmonton to discuss the SAR scene in Alberta, Canada, and across the world.
There are more than 300 search and rescue teams in Canada with some 9,000 volunteers.
SAR teams conduct missing persons searches, rescues, and K9 and evidence searches. They respond to disasters and civil emergencies, conduct water and cave rescues, and assist with urban search and rescue cases. Team members can be tasked by agencies, including municipal police forces, the RCMP, parks officials and disaster relief agencies.
For Elder and his colleagues, the SAR life comes with the rewards of public service and the pricetag of private commitment, even though some government funding does exist.
“We make the decision to volunteer, don’t get me wrong,” said Elder, a management consultant in his day job.
“We do want people to know that in many cases, you’re taking a vacation day to take part in a search. You’re using your own vehicle, food in many cases, and you covered the cost of your own training and equipment and upgrading. You’re spending $1500, or fundraising for it, to help get started.”
Earlier this year, the province announced $150,000 for 20 SAR organizations to promote training and enhance preparedness. A separate $150,000 grant went towards recruitment and skill development.
ATB Financial team Steve Fedorchuk is one of the 1,300 Albertans who has answered the SAR calling.
Fedorchuk, who manages ATB’s customer care centre, has been a search and rescue volunteer for a decade. He calls it the most rewarding volunteer experience of his life.
“There is nothing like knowing that you helped to locate and rescue a missing person,” said Fedorchuk. “But sometimes it’s also knowing that your hard work helped find key evidence or even to rule out a search area. Sometimes the difference you make is providing answers and closure for families.”
Some quick SAR numbers so far for 2016 in Alberta:
3,707: number of training, administrative and incident responses
90,876: hours provided by SAR responders
195: incidents responded to
To thank Alberta’s SAR community, and to welcome their colleagues attending SARscene 2016, October 12-17 at the Delta Edmonton South Hotel and Conference Centre, ATB Financial is lighting on Sunday night its downtown HQ building in the colours of search and rescue: yellow and orange.
“Those are the most visible colours in the bush,” said Elder. “They’re our colours.”
For the general public, a SARscene field day happens from 10 am til 4 pm Saturday, October 15, at Laurier Park in Edmonton. It’s a chance to check out SAR vehicles, equipment, tools and animals, and meet the women and men who work with them.