New provincial support for search and rescue teams means members won’t have to spend much of their time raising money for operations and expenses, says the president of the local team.
Members will now be able to do what they signed up for in the first place — training and preparation for when they are called out, says Andy Muma of Houston Search and Rescue.
“It’s huge. This is what we’ve been working on,” said Muma of a $18.6 million three-year commitment by the provincial government to finance items such as insurance, vehicle and equipment maintenance and training.
“We’ve had people say this is what they haven’t signed up for,” said Muma of the previous need for search and rescue team members to constantly raise money.
Muma said that while Houston Search and Rescue has always been able to apply for grants such as those available from the provincial gaming program, their use has been restricted to equipment and other purchases, not operations.
“Administratively, that can take up a lot of time,” Muma added.
Members can be reimbursed for expenses while on an official search, but haven’t been able to be reimbursed for expenses such as fuel during training exercises, he noted.
The new provincial money will be divided up among teams across the province based on team size, number of searches they are called out for and the size of the area in which they operate.
With a three-year commitment now in hand, search and rescue teams are continuing negotiations with the province to establish a secure annual operations allotment.
Houston Search and Rescue works closely with teams from adjacent communities, meaning its members can be called out over a widespread area. On average, Houston Search and Rescue has responded to up to 12 calls a year.
It has members trained for ground searches and for specialized functions such as swift water rescue.
Consistent training as well as keeping up with certifications means members often have to travel so the increased government support to cover those expenses is much appreciated, said Muma.
And members won’t have to buy and use their own equipment, he added.
“Now we’ll be able to keep up with new standards [of equipment],” said Muma. “Now it will be owned by Houston Search and Rescue.
He also emphasized that the new money will only be going to operations and training support.
“We’re still volunteers. No one’s getting paid,” Muma said of the approximately 30 members in Houston Search and Rescue.
Just recently the team has been able to raise enough money to but two snowmobiles, increasing its operational readiness.
“Having volunteers use their own sleds, that can be really problematic,” Muma noted.
The new provincial money is the second good news event for the team in the past year — the first being establishing itself in its own building where it can safely store equipment.
“It’s in a good location, close to the fire department and RCMP,” said Muma.
The $18.6 million is being called the single largest search and rescue financial commitment in B.C.’s history.
There are 80 search and rescue teams across the province and 2,500 registered search and rescue volunteers. Teams respond to more than 1,600 incidents each year.