July 29, 2015 - 10:36 AM
PENTICTON - Penticton’s Search and Rescue team are dealing with unprecedented callout volumes this summer, with the busiest tourist weekend in Penticton yet to come.
Penticton Search and Rescue’s Public Information Officer Randy Brown reports the organization’s call volume last year was 35 incidents for a total of 6,000 volunteer hours. This year the team is has answered 28 callouts, resulting in "40 task days” of volunteer effort.
“We’ve had several events that lasted more than a day. There’s still lots of the year left to go,” he says.
The rescue team has 34 active members, but Brown notes members can be away or unable to respond at any given time. He says it’s not that simple, especially in years like this, when it comes to planning duty teams and ensuring the right skill sets and right people are deployed for a given situation.
The team also responds regionally for mutual aid calls, noting a Vernon area cliff rescue a couple of weeks ago needed resources from Penticton.
This year’s incidents have largely involved rescues, roughly 75 per cent of total calls, the other 25 per cent consisting of search missions. The group has responded four times to incidents at the Skaha Bluffs; in most years they answer just one.
“Calls to the bluffs are always issues of human error. Sometimes people lack in safety precautions, where a bunch of little things have significant consequences," Brown says.
A call over the past weekend involving a hiker who tumbled over an embankment in the Sendero Canyon area on July 24 also involved the Armed Forces and was one of the toughest so far this year, Brown says, noting the steepness and depth of the canyon, in addition to other factors like fading daylight and rain showers.
“We’re seeing more and more people outside. They’re indulging in activities like mountain biking and adventure sports. It’s a new age. There are more and more people doing things like that,” he says.
The team relies heavily on donations to “keep the doors open.”
Brown says Penticton Search and Rescue operates on a $60,000 annual budget, receiving $20,000 from the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, some expense reimbursement through the provincial government and the rest through donations. He says there simply isn’t enough available volunteer time to host any large fundraisers.
He says the team’s rescue fleet is in the process of being updated, with one vehicle recently replaced and another due for replacement when funds are available.
“It’s been a tough year so far, especially for members who are trying to live their normal, everyday lives,” he says, “burnout is a concern, especially given the number of long rescues this year."
“However, we’ve got a dedicated group of people who just want to get out there and do the right thing."
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015