As an injection of provincial funding runs out for ground search and rescue organizations around B.C. – including Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue – teams are preparing to do to more with less.
CVGSAR president Paul Berry said two pieces of funding from the past Liberal and current NDP governments have assisted the 80 search groups from around the province, but with the last bit of funding expiring at the end of this month, it is leaving groups scrambling to prepare for the shortfall.
“There were two injections of funding – the Liberal government gave 10 million to support teams over a two year period and one year ago the NDP government gave an additional five million for one year to tie us over,” explained Berry.
The BC Search and Rescue Association has been lobbying the provincial government for consistent funding for SAR teams on an annual basis since 2013, he added.
While CVGSAR has been preparing for the lack of funding, Berry said the impact will be felt quickly.
“We’re already being cautious … we will have to reduce training, the number of courses (members can take) and evaluate our equipment purchases.”
As one of the busiest teams in the province, CVGSAR has 55 members who are trained in a variety of skills. Annual certification for members who have helicopter training runs around $25,000, and programs such as first aid training and advanced wildness qualifications may be re-evaluated or the number of qualified members may have to be reduced.
Berry added time spent grant writing and fundraising will take away from vital training time.
“Our call volume is complex and the types of operations (we do) sometimes involve long line helicopters or swift water rescue.”
He noted there has been significant lobbying by the BC SAR association, and Mike Farnworth, the minister of public safety for B.C. is aware of the association’s concerns.
Because of the shortfall, Berry is certain rescues will continue to respond as normal, but it may mean members may not have the same level of training as in the past, and “likely shortcuts will be taken.”
Additionally, he is concerned about overall moral for not only his team but for all ground SAR members in the province.
“It deeply affects morale. These are deeply dedicated individuals who go out at all hours of the day and night and don’t ask for any compensation. They want to be valued and respected by the province they work in.”