B.C. search and rescue groups see a sudden spike in calls | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. search and rescue groups see a sudden spike in calls

Search and rescue groups throughout the province are asking the public to stay close to home and not take risks outdoors as COVID-19 protocols adds extra work and increased risk to their rescue efforts.
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The province’s search and rescue organizations are urging British Columbians to reduce risk-taking when getting outdoors in the coming weeks.

B.C. Search and Rescue senior manager Dwight Yochim says a lot of things are different for search and rescue groups in a COVID-19 world.

“Provincially, up until Easter, things were looking good, search and rescue calls were down around 50 per cent from last year, then Easter came,” Yochim says.

Search and rescue stats took a jump that weekend, with call numbers returning to last year’s levels.

“Then last week, we saw this jump, numbers were up 35 per cent over the same week last year,” he says.

Yochim says the province’s search and rescue teams responded to 23 calls provincewide, with nine of rescues taking place in the Thompson-Okanagan.

Teams responded to calls in the Kamloops, Shuswap, Vernon, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country and Penticton areas last week and Yochim says in the time of COVID-19 each rescue has become a more significant undertaking.

“You have 10 to 20 members who have been self-isolating trying to maintain social distancing, coming to the station," he says.

“Everyone puts on a surgical mask, there’s one person at a time in the trucks, and we don’t carpool anymore. Everyone drives separately to the site."

Yochim says rescue teams attempt to maintain social distancing while hiking to the victim, but if the person needs assistance, it changes everything.

“We have to assess COVID risk, limiting contact. It makes stretcher contact difficult. Once the subject is out, everything has to be disinfected, clothing, equipment, trucks, the helicopter if it’s used. There is a whole list of things that have to be done, and we can’t take the risk the person is asymptomatic,” he says.

Rescue groups have had difficulties maintaining adequate supplies of personal protective equipment as well.

“It’s really created a challenge. We’re asking the public to stay close to home, don’t venture out. Like the province says, explore B.C. later,” he says.

Yochim says now isn’t the time to plan that extra-challenging hike.

He advises anyone planning to hike or get off the beaten path to check out the B.C. AdventureSmart website for tips and outdoor apps.

“We’ve got a sunny weekend and a long weekend coming up. We get nervous when we start seeing increases like last week’s,” he says.

Penticton Search and Rescue spokesperson Randy Brown says it’s “distressing” to hear of call volumes up by 35 per cent but hasn't seen a lot of reckless behaviour in the South Okanagan.

“As things ease, we expect an increase in calls. We’re asking people not to go into the backwoods. If you get lost, there are significant protocols for search and rescue personnel,” he says, echoing Yochim’s comments.

“It’s a lot more work for everyone. We’re asking people to be mindful. Everyone’s on edge — we want to do this right the first time to avoid another closure like this one,” he says.

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