Ladysmith Search and Rescue is looking for a few good volunteers.
The organization, which has been around for more than 40 years, conducts ground and inland water searches for people who are injured or missing. Those needing help run the gamut from young, fit, outdoorsy types to elderly people with dementia.
Training officer Rob Kirkland joined Ladysmith Search and Rescue more than 35 years ago. In that time, he has helped locate countless people and gotten them home safe. Though the job of a search and rescue volunteer is not without its challenges, the rewards are vast.
“It is extremely gratifying, especially when you bring a young person back to their parents,” he said.
The organization is run and staffed entirely by volunteers. Their search area stretches between Chemainus River and Nanaimo River, “all the way back as far as we can go.” The drive for more volunteers is part of a larger movement to revitalize the organization and introduce new opportunities for members. Once volunteers complete their initial training, Kirkland said they’ll have the option of specializing in particular areas, such as swift water and rope rescues. All volunteers will be asked to attend monthly training sessions to keep their basic training fresh and learn new techniques. There is no age limit for volunteers, though they must be physically fit and willing to commit to an initial six-month training session that takes place Wednesday nights and some Sunday mornings.
“It’s a commitment, that’s all there is to it,” said Kirkland, but he added that many people have told him how much they enjoyed the initial six-month training session.
“People say, ‘That was the best course I ever took. Now I feel a lot more comfortable in the bush.’”
Ladysmith Search and Rescue is a relatively low callout organization that can sometimes go a month or two without any calls for help. Callouts tend to peak at certain times of the year, said Kirkland, including mushroom foraging season and when warm weather strikes. During the busier times, Ladysmith SAR can receive between six and eight calls over a couple of months.
“The bush looks totally different when you turn around,” said Kirkland, explaining how people become lost. He recalled a women who stepped out of a forest cabin to have a cigarette, took a short walk and couldn’t find her way back. She was found the next day, safe and sound but cold and scared.
“A night being left in the bush is extremely scary. You’re cold, you’re wet, the animals start moving and there are all kinds of noises,” said Kirkland. “When you find somebody, they are extremely happy, and so are their families.”
Searchers often find themselves hiking through the bush in the middle of the night, navigating the rough terrain using maps, compasses and GPS. Depending on the terrain or the size of the search area, other SAR organizations sometimes get involved so volunteers can rotate on and off shift.
Those interested in learning about volunteer opportunities are invited to an information session Thursday, March 6 at 7 p.m. in the classroom behind Ladysmith Fire Hall.
People interested in helping with fundraising are also welcome.