By Gagandeep Ghuman
If you are thinking of making a donation to your local North Shore rescue, don’t let the news of recent provincial funding for SARs deter you.
That is the message Mike Danks has for the North Shore after two fundraisers were cancelled because of the misperception that North Shore Rescue didn’t need the funding.
Danks, team leader of North Shore Rescue, says the provincial funding is welcome, but search and rescues across the province depend on their communities for the funding efforts.
“The recent donations from the province are great, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need community support. We depend on our community for their support.”
While the provincial funding of $18 million for search and rescue operations is welcome, it has led some to believe that search and rescue is flush with funds, Danks said. That misbelief has meant loss of two fundraisers with the organisers believing North Shore Rescue had more than enough in provincial funding.
“I am very concerned about this. We have already seen people pull out of a planned fundraiser,” he said.
Danks said the three North Shore municipalities give $100,000 to the North Shore Rescue and the province does pitch in funding, it is the community fundraisers that makes make rescue operations possible.
Last year, the busiest year on record, North Shore Search and Rescue spent $860,000 in operational costs. The money given by the three local governments went towards a full-time admin staff position, but the rest of it was all largely community funding.
“We have maintenance and insurance of vehicles, insurance and fuel costs, we have numerous fixed facilities, and we have a cash program that needs to be maintained,” he says.
Danks says while the provincial funding will be useful, but committed monthly or yearly funding is what is actually needed.
“It takes a tremendous time to fundraise, and even though it’s is really great to have an injection of funding like the one announced by the province, what we need is a sustainable model of funding from the province,” he says.
With 144 calls, last year was one of the busiest years ever for the North Shore Rescue. This summer is likely to bring its fair share of rescues as more people venture out into the backcountry without proper research or equipment.
Danks says social media has only helped boost the popularity of hiking. North Shore Mountains, he says, are easily accessible from the downtown core, which brings many inexperienced hikers as well as those who are just visiting the area and are not aware of the risks.
“In places like Whistler and Nelson you may have experienced climbers or hikers, but here mountains are much more easily accessible but the mountain terrain gets very treacherous very quickly and there is no cell phone coverage in the back country either,” he says.
There are 40 active members that come from different walks of life and 20 resource persons who are physicians, ski guides and experienced climbers.
“It’s a really diverse group, accountant, lawyers, engineers, postal workers and construction workers. That diversity opens up different schedules and gives us different perspectives on rescues,” he says.
Danks emphasises that this is strictly volunteer work and there are many people who end up giving as much time to rescues as they do to their full-time jobs, sometimes at the cost of family dinners and kids’ games.
The rescue work, however, isn’t just an office file that can be closed with the click of a mouse. A lot of rescues can be extremely stressful and traumatic, which can create mental health issues for even the most experienced rescuers.
“We see a lot of accident where people are deceased or critically injured and you are trying to keep them alive and get them to hospital, and in some occasions you are providing some kind of closure for the family,” he said.
Danks, a 33 year veteran of the rescue operations, said he was perturbed by the thoughts of a seven year old who was killed in a landslide, despite the best efforts by the team to save her life. Danks is the father of three daughters and dealing with the girl’s death was challenging.
“This was a few years ago, and this was really the first time I was really affected. She didn’t survive and every time I would be putting my own kids to bed, I would see the face of that girl,” he said
Danks said North Shore Rescue members are encouraged to speak about stress or mental health issues and counselling support is available so any issue can be addressed openly.
As the brave hearts from North Shore Rescue team prepare for a predictably busy summer, Danks says he urges the community to support fundraisers for local rescue teams.
“The recent donations from the province are great, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need community support. We depend on our community for their support,” Mike Danks said.