South Columbia Search and Rescue volunteers provide emergency services to the RCMP, BC Ambulance Service, and BC Coroners Service. The team’s base in located in Fruitvale. (Guy Bertrand photo)

Gaming grants aid Kootenay SAR teams

Kootenay West recipients hail from Castlegar, Edgewood, Rossland, Slocan and South Columbia

The lights will stay on and the doors open at South Columbia Search and Rescue (SAR) next year with backing from the BC Community Gaming Grants program.

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The non-profit rescue organization has received $89,000 to stretch out over the next 12 months to cover the basics like insurance and utilities as well as costs related to key training sessions and essential gear for 25 dedicated members.

“South Columbia applies for B.C. gaming funds each and every year as almost all other SAR groups do as well,” says Mike Hudson, president of South Columbia SAR.

“Funding from B.C. gaming is essential to our organizations and what we do. We currently do not receive funding from the Province of BC to maintain our societies, pay utility bills, vehicle insurance, equipment purchases, vital training and the list goes on and on,” he said.

“Most groups rely on B.C. gaming to keep the lights on and the doors open so we can provide rescue services to our communities and those around us. This is what I mean by essential to our business.”

Looking back over the past 12 months, Hudson says there was an increase in calls for assistance compared to the year previous. However, the volume did not peak to the levels the group experienced in 2016 and 2017.

“In 2018, the wildfires I believe kept people indoors, so our call volume dropped considerably that year,” he told the Times. “In 2019 we have seen an increase in calls … we had several medical aid calls. Medical responses seem to be on the rise.”

The team also took a break from ongoing renovations to their hall this year, which is located on Main Street in Fruitvale, and instead, purchased some new wheels.

The group’s 2000 Dodge Ram, which had been donated to SAR from the Village of Fruitvale many years ago, had seen better days, Hudson added.

“So we paid it forward, fixed it up and donated it away to a deserving senior in our community.”

The new truck is a seven-passenger SUV that helps the team move people and equipment around with ease.

“We also purchased a 24-foot cargo trailer, and we have turned it into a command trailer,” Hudson said. “This project has been very rewarding for our team and has surpassed my expectations. This trailer is able to operate anywhere and fully off the grid. We have internet capabilities and technology for mapping, tracking and radios like we have never had before.”

He says this project is still evolving, but it has already proven to be a huge asset.

“The entire build, install of technology and design, has been completed by our volunteers,” he explained. “With the support of some local electrical and pipefitter companies along the way.”

Thinking ahead to the 2020 season, Hudson says the team is in the process of reviewing its long-term strategic planning, including the vetting of certain internal projects and applications.

“For example, a new boat for our water operations will soon be needed,” he said. “Our current watercraft has a 10-year life and we are nearing close to 20 years. Our dux (inflatable) boat is a fiberglass hull with blow up pontoons. These pontoons break down in UV light, and we are beginning to see large tears or breakdown of the seams on the boat.”

Another priority is to look at purchasing two snowmobiles for South Columbia’s winter response team as well as a trailer to haul the machines.

The society requested a grant closer to $100,000 for 2020 operations. To help with the shortfall and keep projects advancing, Hudson says the regional districts of Central Kootenay (RDCK) and Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) play a critical role as does local goodwill.

“We do receive a portion of our funding from the RDCK and RDKB for our efforts, which is always very much appreciated,” Hudson said.

“As well, several local businesses support our needs with discounts from printing services, equipment purchases and repair costs, which are all of equal importance to help us stretch the B.C. gaming funding to help us be certified to go out and provide the services that we do.”

In addition to ground and water tactics, South Columbia SAR members also train in avalanche response, high angle rope rescue, advanced first aid, tracking, K9, and Class D Longline Rescue (helicopter extraction).

“Although we are all volunteers, the costs for training and equipment is expensive,” Hudson said. “We must be trained to high industry standards and trained to the newest rescue techniques.”

BC Search and Rescue Association ( BCSARA) has been working to obtain an Alternative Funding Model to support teams across the province. This last year the government awarded BCSARA another $10 M over three years as they try to reach a goal of sustainable funding.

“The fact that the government gave us this grant again speaks that they recognize our service and needs for funding,” Hudson said. “The government also committed funds to help with staffing for BCSARA (first in history for paid staff) to help build the alternative funding model for approval.”

South Columbia SAR is a dedicated group of professional volunteers who provide emergency services – 24/7 and 365 days a year – to the RCMP, BC Ambulance Service, and BC Coroners Service.

The team’s primary role is to find and assist people who become lost or injured within the service area and support local authorities during natural disasters or mass casualty incidents.

South Columbia’s territory encompasses the municipalities of Trail, Montrose, Fruitvale, and Salmo, as well as land west of the Columbia River to the Kootenay Pass and north from the U.S. border to the Village of Ymir.

“A huge thank you should go to the Province of BC and BCSARA for their continued support and allocation of the $10 million dollars in funding that was given to SAR teams across the province for the next three years,” Hudson said.

“This funding is essential to our organizations in helping us to procure state of the art rescue equipment and to bolster training and operating expenses.”

The team regularly assists neighbouring SAR groups through mutual aid requests and provide specialized search and rescue support across the province as needed.

To find out more, visit the group’s website at

South Columbia SAR is one of a number of Kootenay societies involved in public safety to receive a gaming grant. Other recipients include: Nelson SAR, $100,000; Grand Forks SAR, $74,750; Castlegar SAR, $73,200; Rossland and District SAR, $41,500; and the Slocan and District Technical Rescue Society, $7,000.

The Community Gaming Grants program provides up to $140 million annually to about 5,000 not-for-profit organizations in British Columbia.

“Everyone involved in these organizations puts in so much time and hard work helping keep our communities and surrounding areas safe,” said Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West.

“I’m proud we’re offering this funding to help them with that important work.”

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