Lorna Schwab and Gord Hogaboam take the Arrow Lakes Search and Rescue boat out for a training run.

ALSAR are out searching for you

Arrow Lakes Search and Rescue members love what they do.

Getting lost or injured in the back country is something that happens, a lot apparently, in the steep Kootenay valleys.

Steph Stenseth has been volunteering with Arrow Lakes Search and Rescue (ALSAR) for five years, and she can’t recall exactly how many rescues she has taken part in.

“It’s about ten a year,” she said, when pressed to give a number.

Training Officer Gord Hogaboam has served with the group for a dozen years, and has seen more than his share of lost and injured people. And worse. Search and Rescue extractions remove bodies from where someone has been unlucky enough to die in the wilderness.

Hogaboam was very candid about the effect that seeing seriously injured people or dead bodies can have on rescuers.

“If you’re feeling stressed, we’ve got help, so go use it,” he said to the group of volunteers during their monthly meeting.

Often, the situation is far less dire, and sometimes people self-rescue just by walking out onto a road. Sometimes, worry and searching could have been avoided with a good plan, with someone knowing where the backwoods adventurers were headed and when they would come back.

ALSAR were involved in two rescues last week, and will be keeping their eye on boaters out for the derby this weekend, and their radios on.

There have been several people buried in avalanches this year too, one kind of training that a Search and Rescue volunteer can specialize in. Weekly training scenarios are whatever the group feels it might face, which could mean knowing how to rappel down a rock face or how to manoeuvre in rapid-running water.

“If I’m lost, I want them to find me,” Cath Roberts said, “It’s a very important job they do, and they don’t get as much recognition as they should.”

If something does happen, there are a pool of about 15 volunteer responders to be drawn on, a number that the group would like to see increased to make sure there are enough people to take on the responsibility of getting people back safely.

Search and Rescue members love what they do. When it was announced that the 2012 SAREX, the Search and Rescue Exercise, for south eastern B.C. was going to be held in Rossland in September, volunteer Steph Stenseth got excited.

SAREX is a rescue scenario that involves all the teams in an area working together and practising their skills. Two years ago, it was held here in Nakusp and involved a staged plane crash into the Kuskanax river.

“It’s so much fun,” she said, and told the newer members about how it was a great learning experience getting to meet and work with people from all over the region.

Training and practise is ongoing for Search and Rescue; the skills that are learned need to be practised to be retained and improved, and volunteers learn the basics like map and compass work before they move on to specialized skills. All those skills get put to the test when a call goes out to Search and Rescue, and with the combination of skill and luck, everyone comes home safely.