The North Shore backcountry just got a little bit safer.
After a months-long stand-off with Emergency Management BC, North Shore Rescue has now been given approval to use a helicopter hoist to get lost and injured people out of the mountains at night.
Team leader Mike Danks went public this week with frustrations about the provincial regulator refusing to allow rescue volunteers to use a helicopter-mounted system after dark, despite having full training and certification from Transport Canada, the federal regulator.
Thursday (Oct. 6) night, Danks said EMBC leadership and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth reversed their position.
“As of last night, we are operational to respond if the situation arises,” he said. “In essence, they're very, very keen to move forward with this project. They said the arguments that were presented were all valid and they will be more closely aligning with Transport Canada.”
For now it’s just a verbal agreement, and paperwork will still have to be sorted out, but it means when someone needs to be extracted from the backcountry at night, North Shore Rescue will no longer have to send volunteers in on foot. They had been allowed to use night vision to fly and search for people after dusk, but not carry out an actual rescue.
“We see the need for it. We've been in situations where we could have extracted people and reduce the risk, greatly, on our team members, and provide a much higher level of patient care,” Danks said.
Danks said it was a “surreal” feeling to get the go-ahead after many months of getting the silent treatment from the province, despite investing so much in training and volunteer time.
“In our mind, we were not being heard and we were becoming increasingly more frustrated with the lack of response and, to be honest, the lack of respect for the volunteers that were dedicating a good portion of their lives to this cause,” he said. “I'm still kind of in disbelief, to be honest, that we've actually got there. And now we’ve got to buckle down and we’ve got some work to do.”
North Shore Rescue has paid for the expensive training and certification out of donations they’ve received for from the community. That training will have to be kept current, but donations for the team have been tailing off over the last year, he said.
“It's going take a lot of support from the community to keep this program running,” he said.
Danks said his predecessor, the late Tim Jones, would scarcely believe the tools the team has available to them today.
Because North Shore Rescue is the only team in B.C. with federal certification for night hoists, Danks expects they’ll be getting a lot of taps on the shoulder to help out SAR teams in other jurisdictions, which they don’t mind at all.
“This is a safety net for all the volunteers in British Columbia that volunteer their time in search and rescue," he said. "This is our ticket to get out safely and efficiently.”