Local road rescue volunteer and fire fighter Reg Gustafson was one of six people in the province to be recognized for their contribution as emergency volunteers. Gustafson was given the 2012 Road Rescue Award by Minister of Justice Shirley Bond in Victoria on May 29.
In his bio, they told the story of a road rescue that Gustafson had been part of where the team had helped get a family out of their car after it had driven off a cliff. Although the mom and kids had been able to get out of the car, the dad had been stuck in the vehicle, and had required a serious rope rescue.
Gustafson has been a volunteer fire fighter since the ‘70s, and has worked both in the bush and as part of the municipal force.
Road rescue was taken over by the Nakusp Volunteer Fire Department in the 1990s.
“It used to be done by ambulance, but it became too cumbersome,” said Gustafson. Initially road rescue was given to Search and Rescue, but eventually the fire crew took on the responsibility.
Nakusp Road Rescue sees upwards of 20 ambulance assists a year, Gustafson told me. Volunteer fire fighters prepare for whatever comes at them by constantly training.
“It’s a big commitment,” said Gustafson, “You don’t just join up.” The volunteers meet every Tuesday night and practise rope rescues, a must-have skill in this mountainous terrain. Even though they may only have one rope rescue a year, it’s “virtually impossible” to do one without training and practise.
Knowing you’ve done the right thing by helping people in life-threatening situations is satisfying, but it can also be hard. For those people who naturally just care about people, seeing that level of pain and death can be disturbing.
“If we have a serious one, even if it’s not a fatality, we can debrief,” said Gustafson, who is now so familiar with the process that he helps guide others through the process.
Last year there were an inordinate number of highway accidents and a lot of fatalities, which was really hard on volunteers.
“Last year it got to the point that Victoria said you’ve got to get some professional help,” revealed Gustafson. People from out of the area with no connection to the community which had been sorely impacted by the level of loss came in to help with the debriefing sessions.
“It does accumulate,” Gustafson admitted, “It takes a long time to go away.” But no matter what, it’s worth it to help, he said. For Gustafson, it’s a no-brainer.
“It’s just in my nature,” he said, “I like helping people. You ask any volunteer and they think the same thing.”