SAR gets real about getting ready

Search & Rescue Station 29 will likely be the first people you’ll see speeding your way in their rigid hulled inflatable.

  • Jun. 10, 2015 3:00 p.m.

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Those are the last words anyone wants to hear, or even worse, to have to shout into a marine radio. But it’s good to know when the call is broadcast, there’s somebody close at hand, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

If you’re ever in trouble off Ladysmith, the volunteers for Royal Canadian Marine Search & Rescue Station 29 will likely be the first people you’ll see speeding your way in their rigid hulled inflatable.

To make sure they’re ready as they can be for anything, a contingent of Ladysmith’s SAR members, including Daren Forster and Station Master Karen Bowen, attended a large scale exercise May 23 and 24 near Gibsons.

SAR teams from up and down the coast converged to join in a series of exercises that involved rescues on the water, on land and from the air. They left better prepared to deal with the real thing.

Forster said the meticulously staged enactments gave him an unforgettable sense of what it will be like, if and when he is called on to respond to an emergency. “I’ve been on the water most of my life as a recreational sailor, but as a job I’m a food broker,” he said.

“All the scenarios were so realistic, and everything was happening so fast! It was all designed to have our training kick in.”

Emergency responders have to maintain discipline and carry out their specific roles and tasks in situations where everyone else is panicking, and where priorities can change in an instant. They have to act as a team.

Real life enactments are a crucial – and exciting – part of their training. “To us, because it’s so realistic and it all happens so fast, we have to control our adrenaline,” Forster explained. “The more realistic the scenario, the better the training.”

Bowen, who played the role of a victim in the exercise, said all the stops were pulled to make it real. “The makeup was amazing. The people from the movie industry in Vancouver – they volunteered their time to do it.”

So intense was the experience, she said “some of the guys, their hands were shaking” when they were confronted with the scenes they had to deal with.

Her group enacted a shore exercise. Seven campers were on a beach when a propane tank exploded. It took over an hour for the makeup artists to recreate

the injuries that – in real life – would happen in a flash.

In one of the exercises Forster participated in SAR members responded to a distress call from a pleasure boat that had run into a log boom. “We pulled up to the boat and it was just like real life,” he recalled. “We noticed right away there was a guy on board with a bottle of vodka in his hand.”

Check your anger. Focus on the job that needs doing.

Then the smoke machine below decks kicked in, and it became apparent that the boat was on fire. Notch up the urgency gauge by a factor of ten. Now the task becomes getting the drunken sailor and his victims off the boat quickly and pulling away safely.

Every move the SAR team made was observed and recorded. “At the end of it all we got back to the dock and there’s our evaluator sitting there, and he’s got five pages of notes,” Forster said. “We got a really high rating.”

To be ready to help people in B.C. waters SAR stations need some help themselves. They are funded almost entirely through grants and local donations, Bowen said. So next time you hear of a raffle or fund-raising event for Station 29, buy a ticket. It may be you they’ll have to rescue out there on the rough ocean.