The memorial service for Sheilah Sweatman, the Nelson Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteer who lost her life at the end of June in the line of duty was held in Nelson on Saturday.
Sixteen members of the South Columbia Search and Rescue (SCSAR) Team attended the memorial service, which was done extremely well according to SCSAR president Ron Medland.
“We had a lot of help from different agencies, which was a good thing because we didn’t have any blueprint for search and rescue … on how to host something (like this) so we had a huge amount of help from fire, police, military and other agencies who have had line of duty deaths and some idea of how to do this.”
Sweatman was the first SAR volunteer in B.C. to lose her life, after being swept out of her rescue boat on the Goat River as she was trying to attach a towline to a submerged vehicle. She was a part of the swift water specialist team that responded to a call about the vehicle that was owned by a missing Creston resident.
SAR groups from all over B.C. were in attendance, with a team from Calgary, Alta. and at least one group from Washington State, said Medland.
It was a rough day and a long month Medland admitted, as six of the SCSAR members were on scene at Goat River the day Sweatman was swept away.
He’s proud of the support that those in attendance were able to provide for Sweatman’s family.
“It was a really beautiful day, it was a great service,” he said. “I’m glad for the family — we’re guessing there were more than 1,000 people in the procession but there’s no way of counting — but I’m glad for the family that they get to see that kind of support is there.”
B.C. SAR members are all certified volunteers who put in hundreds of hours of training to prepare for events like the one that claimed Sweatman’s life.
The memorial was a sober reminder of the risk SAR volunteers take every time they answer a call.
“We know it’s there, the swift water people train for it and swift water is probably the most hazardous of all the specialties,” Medland said. “But it’s part of their training to try and anticipate and practice safety but the risk is always there — you’re always discussing it because it does exist. It’s just the price you pay.”
The best way to honour Sweatman’s life is to just keep doing what they do best.
“If a call comes out tomorrow you’re going to do it, cause that’s what we do and you can’t dishonour her memory by not going out and doing something like that,” Medland said passionately. “So it’s business as usual for SAR groups in B.C.”
“It’s a chapter that has been closed, we waited and we’ve said goodbye. Now it’s time to move on.”