Pamela Nevlud and Sebastien Martinez were two of the search and rescue members that took part in the joint exercise between the Columbia Valley

Pamela Nevlud and Sebastien Martinez were two of the search and rescue members that took part in the joint exercise between the Columbia Valley

Search and Rescue squad sees call spike

After a busier-than-average summer, the Columbia Valley's volunteer rescuers take in some team training

Search and rescue teams play a vital role in mountain communities. With so many people hiking and exploring the wilderness, accidents are bound to happen. When those accidents do happen, the presence of a local search and rescue team can mean the difference between life and death.

Steve Talsma has been involved with search and rescue for six years, and currently serves as Search Manager for the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR).

As search manager, Talsma is responsible for receiving calls either from the RCMP or ambulance, and then organizing the appropriate response.

This past weekend, Talsma held a joint practice with other local regional teams from Kimberley and Sparwood at Findlay Falls to help foster good communication between teams that often must co-ordinate their efforts in case of a large-scale search and rescue.

“The goal at the end of the day is to get people home to their families,” Talsma said.

“It’s not always pleasant, but most of the time you are helping people in need.”

Joint practices like this one are uncommon, as inter-regional practices only take place around four times a year. Search and Rescue crews also hold one large scale practice per year that takes an entire weekend to complete, and covers various disciplines, such as rope and helicopter rescue, as well as swift water and avalanche situations. The CVSAR team — which has around 25 volunteers — also practises monthly, and is always looking for new volunteers.

“Anyone who wants to help their community, we’ll find a role for you,” Talsma said.

“It’s not just in the field — anyone who is good at tinkering with engines, or talking on the phone, or people who are good with computers and mapping — we’ll only make you do what you are comfortable with. Personally, I like to hang off of ropes and go skiing, so all the things I like to do actively I get to do here.”

Currently, the CVSAR has big plans for the future, with Talsma looking to acquire a number of additional vehicles for their operations. As the team currently only has one truck available to them, Talsma would like to add a command centre vehicle, along with snowmobiles and quads for winter and summer, respectively.

With approximately one call per month, and a recent spike in calls over the summer that saw eight or nine calls over the span of two months, including three fatalities, Talsma said the extra vehicles could only increase his team’s efficiency.

“The vehicles give us the ability to do a better and quicker response,” he said. “It also allows us to be more efficient with our time.”

Recently, Talsma and the CV team travelled to Sparwood to help search for missing child Kienan Hebert.

Teams from across the province took part in the search, and although the teams didn’t find the boy, Talsma said it was a great experience nonetheless.

“The whole community came together, and gave everyone places to stay, and three meals a day,” he said.

“To see how well the teams worked together in that situation was great, and although we didn’t find him, when his parents brought him to the camp after he was found was extremely satisfying — it really showed that our time spent was well worth it.”