Every day of the year, no matter what time it is, 2,500 volunteers in BC will drop everything at a moments notice to look for or rescue people in distress.
But while their time is all on their own time, search and rescue operations are still very expensive.
“These operations are costly, both in terms of the types of safety equipment the members need to protect themselves but also the equipment you need to access someone if they’re over a cliff or in swift water,” said Comox Valley Search and Rescue President Paul Berry.
The team’s budgets include money for vehicles and rent, helicopter time and travel expenses, which is why the 80 search and rescue teams across the province were expecting a funding announcement from Finance Minister Carol James in Tuesday’s provincial budget. However, they weren’t even mentioned.
“Yeah the resounding silence was a bit of a surprise,” added Berry.
“We really thought the government would take that opportunity to recognize the 2,500 volunteers in the province, all the service they do on behalf of the province as well,” said BC Search and Rescue Association Treasurer Jim McAllister.
The BC Search and Rescue Association has been lobbying the province since 2013 for a stable funding model that would include $6 million a year to be shared by the 80 teams. The last four years have seen piecemeal funding, that last of which dries up at the end of March.
“For us, it means that much of the training we would normally do won’t happen,” said Berry. “Some equipment purchases won’t happen as well so you’re looking at not maintaining the high standards that we have always maintained.”
“They’re spending a lot of time applying for and reporting in on grants versus being out there able to train and respond to save lives,” said McAllister.
In Victoria Wednesday, Finance Minister Carole James made no commitment to a sustained funding model only saying that discussions are ongoing to continue the last few years of funding.
“I know Emergency BC is working with Search and Rescue, they have three-year funding and they’re looking at how to make sure that’s sustainable so those are conversations going on with Emergency BC,” she said.