British Columbia’s search and rescue teams received a significant boost this week after the provincial government announced it would provide a $10-million fund to assist the efforts of rescue volunteers.
A release states that the one-time funding commitment will go towards costs associated with new or additional training, administrative support, and updating equipment. The funds will be divided amongst the province’s 80 volunteer-based teams and adds on to the $6.3 million in annual funding provided by the government to help cover their operational costs.
“It’s a small army of 2,500 volunteers that comb the province’s backcountry, rappel into steep ravines and weather the worst of the elements, while leaving behind the comforts of home to go seek and find those who are lost or injured,” said Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto in a statement.
“Their selflessness is woven into the fabric of their service, and today’s investment continues on our commitment to strengthening them and the tapestry of public safety throughout the province.”
Search and rescue services across the province will be bolstered over the next several months with the assistance of the B.C. Search and Rescue Association, which is also working on developing a long-term solution to the funding needs of volunteers.
“While we continue to work with the province on the proposed alternate support model for search and rescue, this money will help relieve some of the funding pressures and provide for increased training and other tools for those who tirelessly serve as volunteers,” said B.C. Search and Rescue Association President Chris Kelly.
There have been discussions on whether teams could recoup some of their high operational costs, particularly the usage of helicopters, by charging fines on individuals rescued. But organizations like the North Shore Rescue are opposed to this and have said it could puts lives at risk.
If people are charged for rescues, they might avoid the help of rescuers and it could put the individual at greater risk to the elements due to any delay.
“A delay of 30 minutes could mean the difference between a relatively straight forward ‘snatch and grab’ via helicopter or a 12 hour stretcher evacuation with 30 members through extremely dangerous avalanche terrain,” reads the North Shore Rescue’s policy statement.
“Other concerns we have include family/friends launching self rescue with untrained or inexperienced volunteers, creating a situation of confusion where we may end up searching for or rescuing more people. Plus there is the obvious risk of people trying to self rescue when they become lost – becoming more lost, moving into more dangerous terrain, or moving further out of the search area – which can lead to their chances of survival significantly dropping off.”
The government says that the volunteers provide approximately 100,000 hours in donated time to conduct searches, which is equivalent to $5 million in annual salaries saved by taxpayers.