Central Okanagan Search and Rescue safety improved since hero's drowning - InfoNews

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Central Okanagan Search and Rescue safety improved since hero's drowning

Image Credit: FireDog Photography
July 04, 2019 - 1:00 PM

Just over eight years ago, Sheilah Sweatman, a volunteer member of Nelson Search and Rescue, participated in a swift water response for a vehicle partially submerged in the Goat River near Creston.

During the course of her efforts, Sweatman's leg was entrapped by a steel cable and she drowned on June 29, 2011 at age 29. 

The Central Okanagan Search and Rescue (COSAR) named their rescue boat after Sweatman in honour of her bravery. The Sweatman also serves as a reminder of the importance of safety procedure. 

“There’s been a significant improvement from the date of Sheila’s incident until today," said Kevin Birnie, COSAR's Search Manager and Training Director. "We all learn from incidents, and particularly tragic incidents like that one, unfortunately.”

In November 2012 a seven-member jury in Nelson handed-down a list of nine recommendations to Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC) and the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) at the B.C. Coroners inquest into Sweatman's death. The recommendations ranged from developing universal standards for the swift water rescue and recovery training and equipment to creating a standardized risk assessment tool for use in Swift Water operations.

The full list of recommendations can be found here.

Following the inquest, the Swiftwater Taskforce was formed by EMBC and BCSARA in January 2012 to review and address the concerns raised by the jury. Safety protocols are continuously reviewed and improved by the EMBC and BCSARA Board to this day. 

“Since the accident they’ve revamped the Emergency Management BC’s Health and Safety Program, which is administered by BC Search and Rescue Association," said Birnie. "We all subscribe to the health and safety program, and we all have developed our own in-house specific health and safety processes.”

In March 2019, the BCSARA recieved $18.6 million in funding from the provincial government, the largest cash investment into B.C.’s search and rescue network in the province’s history. The funding will be divided up amongst the 80 different Search and Rescue groups in BC based on their individual funding needs. Much of this funding is put towards training and equipment replacement and maintenance.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 801-9235 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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