by: Vicki Green
Search and Rescue (SAR) – what on earth? Like all provinces across Canada, Saskatchewan has people involved with search and rescue in their communities, and they belong to the Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers (SARSAV).
The quick background story on SARSAV that is published on their website:
“Like many things in this world Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers was born out of tragedy, in 1994 a young Ashley Krestianson lost her way and life south of Tisdale.
The massive search spawned the development activity in communities with the goal of providing volunteers to assist the RCMP should such an incident happen again. The RCMP in turn realized they would need to have trained people to help with such a search. The RCMP and representatives from the communities met and SARSAV became an entity.
SARSAV became the umbrella to member chapters (community oriented) and under the direction of the RCMP started getting trained. The training standards have grown to be part of the National umbrella for Canada and continue to grow and be monitored. The high quality of training and organization has created "Search and Rescue Professionals" both paid and unpaid.
The evolution of SARSAV continues, and the relationship with the RCMP in search and rescue has become more of a partnership. SARSAV, the RCMP, along with new partners such as the Ministry of Justice go on making Search and Rescue in Saskatchewan a model that is envied.”
SARSAV is comprised of 17 chapters spread around the province. The goals and objectives of the chapters are to ensure that they have trained, qualified, able volunteers who are able to assist authorities on search and rescue missions. This includes searching for people as well as evidence. All members of SARSAV and the chapters are unpaid volunteers who donate countless hours to an organization that they believe in.
Another huge area of the organization is the public awareness and preventative training provided to the public. Search and rescue is one of the educators of the AdventureSmart program. AdventureSmart is a national preventative program focused on reaching Canadians, and visitors to Canada, who participate in outdoor recreational activities. The goal is to ensure that those who choose to play outside have the knowledge and training on how to stay safe. The programs and trainings are designed for every age level and the different types of outdoor activities.
I would like to take a few minutes to introduce you to a few of the women volunteering with these chapters.
Hwy 55 North Search and Rescue – membership area Candle Lake,Weirdale, Meath Park, Smeaton and Choiceland. 29 members, about half are women.
Bree and some of the other members of Hwy 55 have had a busy 6 months, just about tripling their membership roster, growing from 10 members to 29! Congratulations to Hwy 55, it is not always easy to recruit volunteers. Their chapter meets quarterly spending about 1 hour discussing chapter business and 2-3 hours training to keep everyone’s skills current and fresh. They also participate in some public relations events to bring awareness of the service that they offer and that they are available to their communities. Local events that you will see them at are “Welcome to the Lake Day” hosted at Candle Lake the long weekend in May, as well as participating in the Canada Day parade on July 1st at Candle Lake.
Bree is trained to the Basic Searcher level, and enjoys her time out searching, but her passion lies with her dog Keena, whom she is training to become a certified Search and Rescue dog! Keena is a 5 year old purebred border collie who is super smart and has a real knack for the job duties! Bree and Keena spend about 5 hours a week practicing different skills, as well as participating in “classroom training”. They just completed a 6 week beginner tracking session that was held in Prince Albert, and are signed up to take the 6 week advanced tracking session in the fall.
Certification in Dog Search and Rescue is new to Saskatchewan, and information can be found on the SARSAV website.
Parkland Search and Rescue – Yorkton area – 20 members strong, 8 are women.
Heather Ritchie is trained in Basic Search and Rescue and has been very active in her chapter. She served for two years as president and currently sits on the executive. It was her involvement with the local first responder group that introduced her to the chapter and the association. A few members of the responder group were also members of Parkland search and rescue and had encouraged her to attend some meetings and get involved. Heather runs a safety consulting business, so it seemed a natural fit as her interests and work were complimentary of one another.
The first Multi-Jurisdictional Search Exercise that Heather attended is a favorite memory – fresh to SAR and wanting to try out her new skills as a basic searcher was the idea, but not the result! Heather ended up helping run communications for 80+ people on multiple teams in numerous areas operating a new radio system! An action-packed day to say the least!
Teresa Millar was introduced to SAR via CTV in 2016! A news story with an email contact was all it took to spur Teresa into joining the team. She has served in the military and the idea of joining a team that held many of the same values and traits was an instant attraction. Teresa is trained to Basic Search, Team Leader and Search Manager – the complete package!! She also has her Medical First Responder training and volunteers with Saint John Ambulance in Yorkton. “I’ve always been driven with a desire to help, especially in a time of crisis and this gives me the opportunity to help however I can.” Teresa
North Corman Park Search and Rescue (NCPSAR) – North Corman Park area including Dalmeny, Langham, Martensville, Warman and Hepburn. There are 23 active members, 2 are women.
Christine Woodland has been a member of NCPSAR since 2012 and has spent 4+ years as secretary and held a term of 4 years as the training coordinator. Like many of the other women that participate in SAR Christine has a background in emergency management, holding instructor certificates in First Aid and Automated External Defibrillator, Emergency Medical Dispatcher and Emergency Fire Dispatcher certificates and is a first responder. She has completed the Basic Searcher course, as well as Basic Map and Compass and an introduction to GPS.
NCPSAR has a unique skill set – their members are trained in high angle rescue, rope rescue and water rescue.
One of the members of NCPSAR has an airboat and is generous with his time, skills and equipment to assist in water emergencies. Most of the members of NCPSAR are also volunteer Firefighters and First Responders so their team is trained for high levels of mental and physical fitness. There is an enormous level of trust and commitment to each other and their team.
For Christine, SAR is a family event. Her husband Duwayne is also a member of NCPSAR and took over her previous position as training coordinator. Christine shared the following, “A couple of my favorite memories in SAR to date was being able to include my young children, they have gone and “hid” for us before on training exercises pretending to be our missing children. It excites them to go through mom and dad’s search packs and try out our gear, they love coming to watch training scenarios as well as being included in them. We also offered a one day JR SAR Bootcamp for youth age 12-16, in this event the kids were challenged to build a shelter, start a fire and make a meal. We had members work with them in small groups and the kids left new knowledge and skills to take home.”
Prince Albert North Search and Rescue (PANSAR) – membership area includes Prince Albert, Christopher Lake, Shellbrook, Spruce Home, Davis. There are 16 members, 6 are women.
Sonnet McGuire joined PANSAR in 2009 and hasn’t looked back. Right from the beginning she immersed herself in Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR). Sonnet teaches parts of the AdventureSmart program in the Prince Albert area to local schools, boy scout and girl guide groups. Her face just lights up and you can see her passion when she talks about it! Her teachings have been focused around the “Hug a Tree” and “Survive Outside” programs. Hug a Tree is designed for children under the age of 12 and Survive Outside is designed for those over 12. Each program can be adapted to their setting – from the classroom to the lake. She believes in the program and what it offers, not only to children, but anyone who enjoys the outdoors. The message is simple, practical, easily understood and implemented. As with others, it ties in excellent with her “day job” – Sonnet works with the Ministry of Parks in the environmental education area and the knowledge and skills flow easily between her two roles. Sonnet has held the role of PSAR coordinator for most her time with PANSAR and was chapter secretary for 4 years.
Sonnet has some big thoughts and dreams on how to grow PSAR not only within PANSAR, but across the province. I strongly encourage you to reach out to her if this is something that you are interested in.
When asked what message she wants to convey to women thinking about joining SAR, “There is always a place and role for you. Don’t shy away, the time you have to give will be enough”.
Porcupine Plain Search and Rescue – membership area Porcupine Plain, Hudson Bay and the rural areas surrounding. Porcupine Plain has a membership of 9, and over half are women!
Bobbi Buchanan joined the Porcupine Plain SAR team about 11 years ago. During that time, she held the positions of Secretary and President, and has obtained her certification in Basic Searcher, Team Leader and Search Manager.
It was during her experience at her first multi-jurisdictional search exercise in MacDowell that the provincial association caught her eye. Seeing it all come together, and watching the teams working together catalyzed her involvement with SARSAV. She spent some time attending provincial meetings, getting to know people across the province, understanding their roles and eventually stuck her hand up to become involved on the provincial executive team. Bobbi has spent 1 year serving as Director, 4 years as Vice President and is into her second year as President. While SARSAV occupies a lot of her time available, she is still active in her home chapter.
Bobbi’s voice fills with pride when she reflects on the dedication and commitment not only of the volunteer SAR members, but of those at home that provide the background support to allow the volunteers to go out and be absent from their lives for a time.
From a provincial aspect, SARSAV is getting close to seeing a few initiatives come to a close, and that is a sigh of relief. The RCMP, Municipal Police Forces and SARSAV have worked to develop a formal memorandum of understanding to address the relationship between the organizations. Also, a huge training effort has also been spent updating the chapters to the new Canadian Standard - this adds an increased level of knowledge and professionalism to the members that is then transferred out to the public and the work that volunteers complete. For the long term, Bobbi would like to work towards sustainable funding for SARSAV and the Chapters. Currently the funding comes from grants, donations and fundraising activities.
When asked about her own personal reflection on her time spent with search and rescue, “Seeing the heart and care, the level of selflessness that is always present in her fellow members – well that is just one of the nicest things.”
I would like to share a few more quotes from the ladies that you have just met:
Christine thoughts, “SAR is a way to give back to your community with many benefits. Not only to help others, but to teach others how to be prepared for emergencies.”
Teresa, “The thing that sticks out for me is that no matter what chapter you meet, finding so many like-minded wonderful people who care and want to help...no matter where you meet them, they are always welcome and supportive.”
For those of you who may be interested in finding our more information about SAR and how to get involved, take a look at the SARSAV website to find a family waiting to meet you!
For information on SARSAV or to reach out to a chapter near you, please go to the SARSAV website: www.sarsav.ca