EDITORIAL: A salute to the brave, dedicated members of North Shore Rescue

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Published: April 18, 2012 10:00 AM
Updated: April 19, 2012 8:53 AM

It’s easy to understand why the heroic deeds regularly performed by North Shore Rescue volunteers are sometimes taken for granted in these parts.

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After all, it seems almost weekly that its members are dispatched, often in risky scenarios, to rescue stranded, lost or injured outdoor enthusiasts in the North Shore backcountry. And each year, the elite rescue team saves hundreds of these wayward snowboarders and skiers, hobbled hikers and disoriented day-trippers.

The team is so skilled that their rescue missions almost appear routine. But rescues are never automatic.

And we rarely stop for a second to think about the level of sacrifice, preparation, training and bravery that goes into every single rescue call.

Well, with this being National Volunteer Week it’s a good time to salute NSR and take a moment to reflect on the team’s unwavering dedication to saving others, which has members on standby 24/7, 365.

Take for instance, a call-out for an injured hiker in Lions Bay earlier this week. The call came in around 4 p.m. By the time rescuers had safely extracted an ill-prepared tourist in a longline helicopter rescue, the sky was just starting to darken, but the day was hardly over for the members.

First they needed to return to North Vancouver to unpack and hang their gear to dry. After grabbing a quick bite, it was after midnight by the time they returned home to their families.

Most had to get to their day jobs the next morning so it was straight to bed. After work, members returned to NSR HQ to repack their specialized gear that needs to be meticulously checked after each call-out. It was also necessary to write a detailed log about the rescue mission. “And that takes hours,” explains NSR team leader Tim Jones.

“It’s a lot of work — an amazing amount of work put into it,” says Jones, who has been with the team for more than two decades, participating in nearly 1,500 calls.

Just a few days prior to the Lions Bay rescue, all 40 or so NSR members had forsaken Saturday plans to go through avalanche training exercises.

Jones says this past month there’s been a torrent of rescue calls that’s kept the team going “full throttle.”

“All serious rescues,” he adds.

That means the volunteer hours just keep accumulating. As do the personal sacrifices the members make: missed soccer games and school plays, anniversaries and birthday parties.

Jones admits he’s missed just about every family event imaginable, but says his wife and children have always been very supportive of his work with the NSR.

“They know we do make a difference,” says Jones, noting his family makes sacrifices too.

“What appeals to me is we actually make a difference,” adds Jones, whose son Curtis is also a NSR member.

Of course it’s not for everyone. Members must be tough, passionate and prepared to put in countless unpaid hours.

“The sacrifices they make and the bravery they have is outstanding,” says Jones of the team.

So what can you do to return the favour?

Well, NSR can always use financial donations. Their work requires high-tech equipment and communication devices, and lots of chopper time. That all adds up, even with the government grants they receive and fundraising the team regularly does.

And there’s another thing you can do to help: don’t venture into the backcountry unprepared, like the tourist earlier this week who was at an elevation of 3,500 feet in deep snow wearing only sneakers when he fell.

Jones says NSR is still in full winter mode and backcountry users need to be too — it may be spring on the calendar, but on the mountain it’s still winter.

That means you need the proper experience, as well as hiking boots, an ice axe and backpack filled with the 10 essentials recommended by the NSR (go to northshorerescue.com for more). Also, adds Jones, if you’re trekking in the backcountry, don’t go alone, always leave a trip itinerary behind and have a well-charged cellphone that is GPS equipped.

“That will help us find you quick.”

—The Outlook

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