by Harit Joshi —
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are the first ones we think of when in crisis. They then often turn towards the skilled group of volunteers that make up the Nicola Valley Search and Rescue (NVASR) to assist them in their mission.
The Nicola Valley Search & Rescue Society was set up in 2003, thanks in part to the efforts of Tracy Dunsmore. Having previous search and rescue experience from her time living in Princeton helped Dunsmore initiate the process of setting up something similar when she moved to Merritt two decades ago.
“I have always loved being outdoors and hiking. So, this (as search and rescue volunteer) came naturally to me,” Dunsmore told the Merritt Herald.
Over the years, Dunsmore’s team of skilled volunteers has gone over 50. They are available “on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year” as they go about assisting the RCMP, BC Ambulance, and Provincial Coroners Service as and when needed.
“We’re a small community, but we have a large area to cover. So, apart from the RCMP detachment area, we also cover for the areas that don’t have a search and rescue team. So, it is a huge area that we respond to,” Dunsmore pointed out.
For Dunsmore, being a search and rescue volunteer happened my chance.
“When I had my first call as search and rescue, I was working in policing and we had a call out and had to access search and rescue in Princeton,” she said.
“I didn’t know much about the program, but I was interested and from there on, I just started the training, took courses, and became a training officer.”
Dunsmore and her fellow volunteers have undertaken several rescue operations in the snow, rivers, and other treacherous conditions, also responding quickly when people with dementia and children wander away.
When pressed to recall an operation that she can instantly think of, Dunsmore recalled:
“I remember one incident 10 years ago, where we had a call between Merritt and Kelowna. Usually within 24 hours is kind of high risk when we have to find somebody. And then the risk of finding them alive or uninjured after the first 24 hours, it gets worse and worse as the days go on. We had one man who was missing. It was day three, and we were starting to think that this wasn’t going to be a great ending. And on the third day, we actually spotted him from a helicopter.”
“We were able to access him. He was quite far back into the bush. He wasn’t familiar with the area. He hadn’t been prepared and wasn’t a big hiker. He didn’t have any proper clothing, food or anything.
“He was pretty tired and cold when we did find him. He’d gone with his girlfriend and was just going for a bit of a walk initially, and she’d stayed in the truck. Then, he didn’t come back, and that’s when she drove back to Kelowna and called them [RCMP]. So, that was a good ending.”
Despite the risks, volunteering for search and rescue is not a thankless job, as Dunsmore puts in.
“A lot of times it’s moving on, but we do a lot of times when we have a rescue like that, that’s where a lot of our donations come from. They will get donations from the family, or friends of the family, and online and they’ll send us a letter thanking us. We do get lots of thank you cards and lots of emails and Facebook messages from families and friends that were involved or wanted to thank us for that and donations.”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” said Dunsmore, who is currently actively involved in training new volunteers.
“I do a lot of the [classroom] training right now, and I’m currently doing my rope rescue certification. I just trained for ice rescue a few months ago. So, I still like to do a lot of things like that. I used to do the swift water rescue, but I’ll leave that to the younger people now,” added Dunsmore, while signing off.
For more information on NVSAR, visit their website at www.nvsar.com.