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Vernon Search and Rescue members step up to shave down response times

FILE PHOTO: Vernon Search and Rescue members at a training session in September 2014.
May 25, 2017 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - As call outs for Vernon Search and Rescue’s helicopter team continue to soar, the group is piloting a new project to cut down the time it takes to reach people in need.

For the past month, the volunteer agency has been fully staffing its helicopter winch rescue team seven days a week, instead of having volunteers paged out when a call comes in, spokesperson Leigh Pearson says.

That means volunteers are stationed every day, from dawn to dusk, at the hangar in West Kelowna where Wildcat Helicopters Inc. is based.

“They’re all volunteering, doing it on their own time,” Pearson says. “It’s a huge commitment. We all do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Previously, members would either make their way to West Kelowna or, more often, get picked up in Vernon.

“If the call was north of Vernon that worked really well because they had to fly overtop of us anyway. But any other direction and it really slowed us down. In our minds, it wasn’t good enough,” Pearson says.

Vernon Search and Rescue’s helicopter winch rescue operation began as a unique pilot project in 2014, and is now a permanent service paid for by the province and used throughout the Southern Interior, not just Vernon. The only thing the province doesn’t pay for is wages for the highly trained search and rescue volunteers.

“It’s an astonishingly good deal for the province,” Pearson says.

He says the group has nine people trained on the helicopter winch, and they rotate shifts throughout the week so it’s not the same people sitting at the hangar all day.

“They keep busy doing training and making equipment, and they’re right on the spot when a call comes in,” Pearson says.

Having members on site has already reduced response times considerably, Pearson says.

“So far it is working really well,” he says.

The system is being piloted for three months, after which time partners will decide if they will continue on a permanent basis.

“Hopefully it will fly — literally,” Pearson says.


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