A VISION - The TRIAD – By Tim Jones, Team Leader North Shore Rescue
I speak with expert Authority on this Vision as I have direct and vast operational experience in all three areas. I focused on the three issues as a co- dependent Triad to ensure Volunteer SAR response sustainability. I will speak in general terms here as dialogue and discussion with in Volunteer SAR Teams, the Aviation and Communications Community is essential to fine tune this Triad. The first two Legs are stark recognition that status quo in responding to the ever increasing time and weather compressed helicopter rescues is pushing the operational envelope of what constitutes Volunteer SAR. A hybrid approach is required that still retains the spirit Volunteer SAR Teams but recognizes the need to have a paid standby for a select skill set of SAR members, pilots and aircraft in high volume areas at peak time period . The Third Leg is something I have been messaging for over a decade as a major operational and safety net issue. NSR has built a one million dollar radio repeater system for its local North Shore Operations. Move north to Squamish nothing exists. This is unacceptable. With the exception of a very small number of very fortunate SAR Teams these other Teams should not pay nor can they afford essential communications systems like this.
THE FIRST LEG – Paid Standby for Select Skill Set Members (Helicopter Rescue Technicians)
Hasty Team Standby pay for high volume SAR teams in order to maintain an operational posture to respond to critical SAR Tasks is now required. Ideally, this stipend/salary would only be for times of high demand and only for a rotating small group within the all-volunteer team. This small group would be on pager to respond rapidly as a initial hasty team. Everyone else would remain volunteer. The Hasty Team would be made up of Helicopter Rescue Technicians (as in the picture below) from within the existing SAR teams. This decade plus proven operational skill set exists within the high volume SAR Teams.
THE SECOND LEG – Paid Standby for Specially Trained Pilots and Select Aircraft
Dedicated light intermediate helicopters and specially trained and experienced pilots are the vital link in Mountain SAR. Asking private operators to have machines sitting unpaid waiting for a SAR call will bankrupt them. Instead, during forest fire season and times of high demand, equitably place skilled private pilots/aircraft on minimums (standby) dedicating it to SAR. This way, there will be aircraft available for SAR and the pilots will be at the airport ready to go when the call comes in. As it stands, on weekends pilots have significant commutes (risking traffic and car accidents) to get to the airport before they can even launch (If there is an aircraft in town). Having the province pay for this would alleviate these issues in high volume regions. The picture below depicts the pilot and type of helicopter properly and safely suited for mountain SAR operations. Military Cormorant helicopters are not suited for Mountain SAR due to the excessive rotor downwash.
THE THIRD LEG Communications, Communications, Communications
A provincial communications system that mirrors BC Forest Service is essential to operational sustainability. The current patch work system does not provide any realistic/effective communications safety net required for Volunteer SAR operations in this province. The downloading of Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines has mandated Volunteer SAR to be safe. As there is no comprehensive communications system which is the first thing identified in almost any incident review I am been involved in then we clearly are not meeting the intent of these guidelines. This must be corrected by implementation of a multi-year and multi-million dollar program in which SAR Repeaters can be located within or adjacent to the existing Forest Service Repeater sites in this province. The following picture is of the NSR Mt Cathedral Repeater Site adjacent to the joint Forestry and Metro Vancouver Repeater Site