VERNON - After a 50-year run with search and rescue, Vernon’s Pete Wise has a quick answer when asked if he’s ready to retire.
It’s a negative.
Wise, 66, is as ready as ever to drop what he’s doing to drive out to the middle of nowhere as he was when he was 16.
“It’s the satisfaction you get from helping someone out,” he says. “I feel good because I offer my assistance.”
He’s been involved in hundreds of searches over the years, from stranded hikers to missing people. Sometimes, there’s a happy ending, as in 2006 when Wise and his search team located a kidnapped Armstrong girl. As a dad of two and a foster parent, it was an emotional job.
“We’re searching everywhere and the longer it goes the prognosis is not good. We’re into day three, we have our search teams scouring everything, and we found her. If you ever wanted to see a bunch of grown men cry, that was it.”
He’s found people alive, and he’s also found people dead. Other times, there’s not even the closure of finding a body. Early in his career, he was part of a month-long search for one of his own classmates who was lost with his father.
“They went up into a draw, we called it Devil’s Draw, and they just vanished off the face of the earth,” Wise says.
Search and rescue can be stressful, frustrating and draining work. Wise and fellow SAR volunteer Don Blakely coordinated Canada’s largest evacuation at the time in 1998 when the Mount Ida Forest Fire threatened the City of Salmon Arm. Wise’s expertise was called on again during the 2003 forest fires in the Okanagan.
With him at all times—breakfast, work and bed—is his pager. He brings it on vacation, and has even initiated a call out from Maui. He’s always there for his team, even in another country.
Vernon’s search and rescue group is made up of a core group of volunteers around the same age as Wise. Not only are they a team, they’re dear friends.
“I love the camaraderie, the old guard, we’re very tight knit. We fight like brothers and sisters, but I would do anything for them,” Wise says.
His experience propels him more often than not into the role of search manager, where he coordinates volunteers, but he still loves getting in the field when he can. He’s always been an outdoor enthusiast, trapping muskrats at age nine, and continuing to operate a trap line today.
“In this business, you have to have a connection with nature,” Wise says.
Another key part of the search and rescue equation is a supportive family, and in that regard, Wise says he simply has the best.
“How many birthdays, anniversaries, dinners do you miss? It happens so often, you’re just sitting down to dinner and the call comes in,” Wise says.
His day job doing wildlife control at beaches, parks and people’s homes has him up at 3:30 a.m. daily and sometimes working late into the evening if he’s called out on a search. And he’s not about to give it up any time soon.
“I did an online test to tell you how old you are,” Wise says. “It thought I was 19.”
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