Local search and rescue services get lifeline from gaming grants

Province will award South Columbia SAR $65,000, Rossland $13,000

B.C. community gaming grants keep the lights on and the doors open for local search and rescue (SAR) services.

The province announced $5.7 million in public safety grants this week, which included $65,000 for South Columbia SAR, $13,000 for Rossland SAR, $40,000 for the Nelson group, $54,000 Castlegar SAR and $3,400 for the Slocan District Technical Rescue Society.

Relying on annual grants to pay rent, buy insurance, provide ongoing training, and fix equipment is a tough business, because other non-profits such as volunteer fire departments and crime stoppers also depend on gaming money for public safety services and educational programs.

“All the different groups can apply for a gaming grant, which is our main source of income to operate,” says Mike Hudson, president of the South Columbia service. “Each group is allowed to apply for up to $100,000 per year and sometimes we get what we are asking for, sometimes half, depending on the priorities (of everyone who applies.)”

As more and more nonprofits pop up and competition for public safety grants tighten, Hudson is hoping the province will alter the way search and rescue groups are funded year-to-year and in turn, take grant writing pressure off those who voluntarily provide emergency medical services 24/7.

“We’ve been working the last two years on what’s called an alternative funding model,” he explained. “Right now, what happens is about 80 SAR groups across the province apply for gaming money, so essentially, we are in competition with each other to provide the same services.”

While some SAR teams are successful in grant writing, others are not.

“There’s a crazy amount of work involved to apply for a gaming grant,” said Hudson, SCSAR’s grant writer. “So it’s a bit of a tough situation especially for volunteers.”

So recent news the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is providing one-time funding of $10 million for B.C. ground search and rescue this year, means all 80 SAR groups across B.C. will receive money to help bolster training, update equipment and support administrative duties.

Over the coming months, the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) will be working with its membership, and allocate the funding according to the needs of local ground search and rescue teams.

“The $10 million is a chance to upgrade in terms of equipment and training and gives the government a chance to see as an organization, how we spend that money,” explained Hudson. “Basically the money will be divvied up between all groups in the province based on how many people they have, their capabilities, do they have specialty teams, calls per year – all that kind of stuff.”

Additionally, if the government agreed to another funding model for operational costs, then SAR teams would only need to apply for gaming grants to help fund high priority needs such as new equipment.

“We have members in all different disciplines, and we also have the technical rescues like advance first aid, swift water rescue, rope rescue, avalanche, and canine,” he added. “We are kind of a big, neutral A-Team.”

The “Alternate Support Model for SAR in B.C.” proposal was accepted for internal review and action by the province in December.

To view the document and two presented options, visit bcsara.com.