COMMUNITY: Who will you call when things go wrong?

Some of the Arrowsmith Search and Rescue team. || Photo courtesy of Denise Collins
By Denise Collins

Imagine you are out walking your dog at Englishman River, you trip over a log and break your ankle, or you are a parent that turns your back for five minutes to find your autistic 6-year-old daughter has wandered away, or your elderly mother, who has been showing signs of mild dementia, has not returned from her usual walk… who ya gonna call? No, not ghost busters!

Hi My name is Dee Collins and I have been a member of Arrowsmith Search and Rescue (ASAR) for six of my 30 years in Oceanside. Those examples were just a small taste of real calls from this last year.

ASAR is tasked by RCMP, BC Ambulance or the BC Coroner’s service, so call 911 first! We offer programs to educate children and adults — such as Adventure Smart and we regularly take part in community events, such Canada Day parades, local food drives and the polar bear swim to name a few.

We started as a group of volunteers who would head into the bush to look for the occasional lost hiker and if found, the members would fire a shotgun into the air. We have come a long way since then and have become a group of highly trained professional volunteers, certified through the Justice Institute of BC. Our volunteers are willing to head out in the wildest conditions, at all times of the day or night to help normal people like you or me, who are lost or injured anywhere in our community — from Lantzville to Deep Bay, Alberni hump to Lasqueti.

We are not directly funded by the government for any projects, equipment, or training. We apply for grants and fundraise for these items, with all proceeds going to the group, as there are no paid positions in our society. Each member donates their time and purchases their own 24-hour survival kit.

Last year we responded to 53 callouts, both local and in support of neighbouring groups. We have 50 active members, of which 18 are female! Our call volume has doubled over the last 10 years and we have outgrown our current location. We are building a new hall, after raising $700,000 without going directly to our community.

In 2016, I became a ground search and rescue member or GSAR, which requires six months of intense training including an overnight in a homemade shelter with no sleeping bag — luckily it didn’t rain! In 2014 I became the first, but not last, female team leader in our group, and this year I became a certified level one rope technician, but had to train in a member’s garage as we did not have adequate space in our existing hall.

Many of you may have seen the news coverage of the crevasse rescue on Little Mountain in October or the Little Qualicum Falls rescue in December, which needed our specialty swift water and rope team. The river rescue was the most intense rescue I have ever been on. I am thankful for two things, one, I never looked over the edge to where we were sending Nick and secondly, that I knew my team members were trained to do this and I trusted them implicitly.

Sometimes we need mutual aid and so we call on neighbouring groups. I ran a rescue in 2019 for a local Parksville teacher out running with her husband on the CPR trail, who broker her ankle. 35 members from 3 SAR teams worked together seamlessly to safely manoeuvre her down the steep and slippery terrain before handing her over to the BC ambulance service, a feat that was only accomplished because of standardised and professional training and the ability of all involved to listen and act on clear directions.

In 2020, ASAR provided mutual aid for searches in Pemberton, Squamish, Campbell River, Comox, Tofino, Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo!

So, who do we assist? Everyone from hikers to bikers and ATVers, dog walkers — and sometimes their dogs, if they have fallen off cliffs, despondent adults, lost children with autism, mushroom pickers. We also assist with residential evacuations when rivers burst their banks.

Sometimes we do body recoveries when other emergency organizations cannot reach them. Last year we had seven call outs for members of the community with various levels of dementia, where we are pounding the streets, trails or bush looking for signs. We are dedicated to bringing your lost or injured loved ones home!

We will come if you call, anytime, any place. Anyone could find themselves in need of assistance and we will be there! It’s what we train to do… So, who ya gonna call? Remember always call 911 first for prompt assistance.

Oceanside News Parksville Qualicum Beach

Denise Collins

Denise Collins has been a member of Arrowsmith Search and Rescue for six years. She submitted this article on behalf of 100+ Women Who Care Oceanside.

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