For the first time in the better part of a decade, Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) is looking to expand its ranks.
Its first membership drive since 2014, the volunteer organization is accepting applications for around a dozen new members until June 15. Manager Brad Sills said, between the recent departure of two longstanding members and a rise in call volume during the pandemic, it was time.
“Tasks have increased so we want to shore up our numbers a bit more,” he explained.
“We operate a pretty small crew at 31. Most of the teams in the Lower Mainland are closer to 50 or 60, so there’s a little bit of burnout going on.”
Like other search-and-rescue groups across B.C., WSAR saw a surge in mobilizations over the past year, as more recreationalists took to the backcountry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to its annual manager’s report, covering March 1, 2020 to March 1, 2021, WSAR saw a similar call volume (92) compared to the same period last year (88), but a whopping 38-per-cent jump in calls requiring mobilization, from 55 to 76.
That tracked with the wider provincial trend. According to B.C.’s public safety ministry, ground search-and-rescue groups were deployed 1,959 times between April 2020 and April 2021, an increase of nearly 25 per cent, making it the busiest year in B.C. SAR history.
Sills is hopeful the membership drive will also inject some much-needed youth into the organization, “provided that they have that sort of basic experience that we’re looking for, which is a first-aid ticket and at least some formal avalanche training,” he said. “We’d love to take on 20-year-olds but they need to have this experience.”
Along with that baseline experience, Sills said the two main attributes of an ideal WSAR candidate would be “dedication and attitude.”
“We want people that are really passionate about helping people in distress and are willing to work with each other in a very collaborative manner to do whatever needs to be done to affect that rescue.”
The average WSAR member spends approximately 200 hours a year on the job, including weekly training exercises that have mostly been held virtually in the pandemic.
“We’re just waiting for COVID to be over and we want to get back to [normal] because training has really taken a hit this past year,” noted Sills, adding that members will primarily focus on helicopter, rope and crevasse rescue training ahead of next winter.
Whistler RCMP training for two SAR liaison positions
Whistler Search and Rescue should have some extra hands on deck this winter as the local RCMP detachment looks to train two members as search-and-rescue liaisons.
A role previously held by former Whistler RCMP detachment head Steve LeClair, the liaisons would effectively serve as the point of contact for WSAR, would attend training days and “create that relationship, as we have similar interests and skillsets,” wrote RCMP Sgt. Sascha Banks in an email.
“We have found this a great asset with Squamish RCMP for understanding why certain things are done, learning their procedure, and sharing knowledge.”
Sills said the liaison position in the past has played a vital role when search-and-rescue crews are tied up on other calls.
“The value for us is when we can’t get through, for whatever reasons,” he said. “Whistler as we all know is a very busy place and we can be working a call and trying to get ahold of a member, and it’s not that they don’t want to answer, it’s just that they’re chock-a-block busy.”
Pique reached out to LeClair for comment, but as he is now serving as a reserve constable in semi-retirement, he said he is not permitted to speak to the media.