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HomeNewsCampbell River SAR call outs hit historical level

Campbell River SAR call outs hit historical level

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Campbell River Search and Rescue (CRSAR) is reporting a record number of call outs last year.

CRSAR responded to 105 operational calls, a substantial 28 percent increase from 2019. 

Search & Rescue Manager, Grant Cromer, says each call out “represents a large, coordinated effort on the part of our members, and considering this large increase, we have noticed the impact.”

Campbell River is not alone in higher call volume: SAR groups all over B.C. have experienced increases in 2020. 

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Historically, there is a trend of small increases in call volume every year, and the trend has been edging up at a pretty steady rate for the past 10 years.

Cromer says COVID –19 was an obstacle in many people’s lives, in relation to their call volume.

“We can say that a small portion of our calls were probably related to COVID –19 ‘cabin fever’,’” he said. 

With the social distancing regulations in place for B.C. this past year, we

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believe that many people decided to venture to the backcountry to avoid the increased crowds on more accessible and populated trail systems, looking to try something new.”

Although CRAR didn’t directly track the stats of what brought people to

require their services, Cromer said, “the provincial data of call volume and the increase in outdoor recreational equipment sales this past year certainly led us to the conclusion that COVID-19 was a big motivator of people choosing to go into the backcountry.”

Cromer said their members did respond to many calls for people who were overwhelmed and a little unprepared for the trips they were on.

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“(They include) individuals new to recreating in the backcountry, fuelled by excitement and overly ambitious pursuits in unfamiliar and more complex terrain than they are used to can easily find themselves in backcountry emergencies,” he added.

COVID–19 also reduced the team’s face-to-face training hours.

“For most of 2020 our team has had to meet virtually, and with most provincial SAR courses were cancelled, we have had to generate all of our own virtual training opportunities,” Cromer said.

“Although CRSAR members do maintain skills on operational calls, without the opportunity to fine-tune and advance our skills in a group setting, skill development and progression are more limited.” 

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Looking ahead to 2021, Cromer said there is hope that things will improve, and they can resume our normal training and meeting schedule.

He added that the virus changed how they do their call out responses, with the implementation of new protocols, which have changed their practices and procedures. 

“Each step of a call out, from coordinating the effort, to transporting, to engaging with subjects and everything in between, has been adapted to follow health orders,” Cromer said. 

“It’s very difficult to maintain a safe distance when performing first aid on a subject or riding in a helicopter, and as such, we have had to educate our members and make many adaptations to comply with health orders and safety of all involved.”

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The type of calls CSAR responded to in 2020 included the typical lost/missing person calls, which also included an increase of despondent person calls, and persons in mental health distress who have gone missing. 

Cromer said there was a notable increase of high-risk backcountry calls, and several high alpine SAR calls were conducted in 2020. 

These include people who had undertaken trips into high-risk environments such as mountain environments to climb and backpack,” Cromer said. 

“These areas are unique to operate in as the terrain can be very difficult to travel in and the skill set to safely travel in these areas require specialized mountain rescue skills.”

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They also had several calls in high alpine areas that put their alpine rescue team to the test.

Cromer noted that they provided medical responses and evacuations to some very remote areas this year, including Cape Scott Park and areas of the North Coast Trail, West Coast locations, and many of the Discovery Islands. 

“A high abundance of twisted and broken lower limb injuries and muscle strains put a lot of backcountry users in need of evacuation from some pretty remote places,” Cromer said.

The team continues to use helicopters for a lot of their evacuation and travel, as we serve a very large area, roughly 35,000km, and are called to provide mutual aid to other SAR groups all over B.C. 

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Several multi-day searches were conducted last year, involving multiple SAR teams from all over the province who came to Campbell River to search for a few individuals that went missing. 

“These were large scale mutual aid searches that normally would occur once or twice a year on the island, in 2020 we had three in our area,” Cromer said.

“Our helicopter hoist rescue program was very successful last year, with 6 calls for service. In every instance, the ability to have a team deployed by hoist to the subjects, provide first aid and then fly to medical support was beneficial and in one case crucial to life.”

Meanwhile, CRSAR’s canine handler will be transitioning her existing dog, Pickle, to retirement while training a new puppy to become an eventual member within our group.

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Looking ahead, Cromer expects the busy trend to continue. 

“We encourage everyone venturing into the backcountry to plan to be self-sufficient for 24 hours, including food, water, shelter, and a signalling device,” he said.

“Satellite beacons are worth their weight in gold in the event of an emergency as they provide us your exact location as well as the ability to communicate with you in situations where a cellphone is no use.”

Cromer added that with winter well upon us, they encourage people to ensure they have the proper equipment, training in regards to snow safety/avalanche training and the knowledge/skills and fitness to undertake any backcountry adventure. 

“Provide a loved one with your trip plan and stick to it,” he said.

Last year CRSAR members volunteered 11,544 hours with 6,499 hours of that being on task, which means over half of their time was spent on operational tasks away from their jobs and families. 

“Considering the increase in call volume and the COVID-19 issues we faced, our members really stepped up to the demand in 2020,” Cromer said.

Check out www.adventuresmart.ca for more backcountry travel tips and information and stay safe.

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