Lack of funds from BC Budget places a ‘burden' on SAR volunteers 

Squamish Search and Rescue president talks about local impact

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVE BUZZARD / WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA - BJ Chute, president of Squamish Search and Rescue, says the organization has been lobbying the province for more funding for years.
  • Photo by Dave Buzzard /
  • BJ Chute, president of Squamish Search and Rescue, says the organization has been lobbying the province for more funding for years.

In the latest provincial budget, there was no funding set aside for the B.C. Search and Rescue Association.

In 2016, the government gave BCSARA a one-time injection of $15 million, which was divided up by the association to their 80 units across the province to be used over three years.

That time is up on March 31.

"Although the government pays for helicopter time and reimburses meals and mileage, any of the upfront hard costs are borne by the society. That's the money that we've been lobbying for, for several years," BJ Chute, the president of the Squamish Search and Rescue, told The Chief.

The Squamish SAR team also gets help from the District of Squamish, which pays for the upkeep, maintenance and insurance of the vehicles owned by Squamish SAR. However, replacing those vehicles or purchasing anything else, including equipment, training, uniforms and personal protective equipment, has to be fundraised for by the same volunteers who perform search and rescue operations.

In Squamish, around 60 volunteers dedicate their time, skills and sometimes their own money to rescuing people. In 2018, Emergency Preparedness BC said the local SAR group was the busiest in the province.

"Instead of having our members spend their time doing what we should be doing, which is going out and performing search and rescue operations, our members now have to — on top of that — go out and fundraise as well," Chute said. "It puts a really unfair burden on the volunteer teams in the province."

While Chute said the budget announced on Feb. 19 won't impact any current training and they're not in critical need for new equipment, the lack of financial stability is a concern.

"I don't have any concerns like on April 1, Squamish SAR's going to shut down. I want to make that clear: We're still able to respond," he said. "It does mean that we are once again left in this unpredictable world without having stable funding. It makes it very difficult for us to have a five-year or 10-year or even a two-year financial plan. How do we save money when we know that we want to replace certain gear? Most of our gear has a lifespan."

Chute added the Squamish SAR is outgrowing its current base on the forestry compound.

"If we are going to start looking at building a different facility or moving facilities, had we had the funding model we were anticipating, that would be a lot easier for us to do," he said. "It makes those decisions difficult and it makes that much more of a burden on the volunteers."

This article originally appeared in The Squamish Chief on March 1.

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