Some Questions and Answers
What is North Shore Rescue?
NSR is a group of women and men who rescue and search for people, missing, or believed to be missing, in Vancouver’s North Shore mountains. A typical scenario is a person who goes hiking or skiing or snowboarding at one of the local mountains and doesn’t come home that night. At midnight his/her Mom/Dad/spouse/roommate calls the police. The police determine he/she is still on the mountain and they call NSR.
A major component of NSR is education. Our lives would be much easier if nobody went missing, or had some equipment with them when they did. So team members also give talks to school, guides, scouts, etc groups, do booth-duty at the ski show, make appearances on radio talk shows, and so forth.
What is a Member-In-Training (MIT)?
This is what you will become if you decide to join NSR. An MIT is a probationary, non-voting member of the team who is engaged in learning the skills required to become a full team member. This is a 2 year period in which the MIT participates in regular training, callouts, and receives ground search and rescue certification. An MIT will have to pass a practical and written examination, as well as meet attendance and other performance criteria before being brought on as an active member. Expectations are high for MIT’s, but it can be fun and rewarding process with a lot of opportunity to be fully engaged in Search and Rescue activities.
How big is the team?
Approximately 50 or so people. However not everyone goes into the field. There are search managers, communications people, media and public relations people, and so forth.
How much time does it take up?
Lots! Each member can spend literally hundreds of hours a year on team activities. Training is every Tuesday night, plus one weekend out of four. Plus special courses, for example a Wilderness First Aid course. Plus other activities like fundraising or education. And finally the call-outs, often at night, and often in bad weather. The team consumes a lot of its members’ free time.
How often is the team called out?
We average 150 calls a year, which means almost three per week, on average. We’re busy all year round. During the summer we mostly look for missing or injured hikers, and during the winter it’s often skiers and snowboarders. So we consistently receive call-outs throughout the year. Take a look at our callout statistics.
How long do the calls take?
It varies tremendously. A “typical” call, if such a thing exists, will start in the evening and finish sometime in the following morning. Some calls last for only a couple of hours. But some calls will run for days.
What area does the team cover?
We cover Vancouver’s north shore mountains and canyons. This includes the following areas: Grouse Mountain, Cypress Bowl, Hollyburn Mountain, Mount Seymour, Capilano Canyon, Lynn Canyon, Lynn Headwaters, and the surrounding peaks and trails. Assisting other teams will take us from right next door, such as the Lions, to more distant regions such as elsewhere in British Columbia and into the United States.
Where does the money come from for all this?
There is some government funding. This goes towards the team’s significant expenses for equipment such as ropes, climbing hardware, stretchers, medical and trauma treatment equipment, and so forth. This is insufficient to cover expenses. The team also receives donations from grateful individuals and families. Team members also spend significant amounts of their time fund-raising.
Do you get paid?
No. Everybody is a volunteer, providing their own time for training and searches. In addition everyone provides their own personal equipment. Some expenses are paid, such as gas for driving to a search site. However almost everything else is paid for by the team members themselves. We are regularly asked about employment or career opportunities. Because everybody is a volunteer the normal concepts of employment or career do not apply.
What about dogs?
We sometimes use dogs in searches. The dog teams that we use on SAR calls are validated annually by the RCMP Police Dog Service. They are either members of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA – for avalanche calls) – or the British Columbia Search Dog Association (BCSDA – for wilderness searches). Sometimes, we are also fortunate to have assistance from the RCMP Police Dog Service themselves.
NSR presently has two validated BCSDA dog teams and one CARDA dog team.
Are there other teams?
Yes. There are search and rescue teams in Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Fraser Valley, Lions Bay, Squamish, Whistler, and more. Try the BCSARA home page for information on contacting these teams.
This point cannot be emphasised enough. The team will consume a very large proportion of your once-free time. It will impact your social life. Your cell phone becomes an animal that demands attention. There are countless stories of members having their days and nights rudely interrupted by call-outs. Of spending half the day making dinner for guests, only to cancel it at 5 pm when the SMS/texts start coming. Of leaving dinner parties halfway through due to text alerts. You can no longer truly commit to virtually anything, because you’ll never know if that phone will go off one hour before you were due to get there.
The same applies for work. It’s crucial you work in an understanding environment that can tolerate you suddenly leaving with no warning.
Think about it. How much time can you afford to give up? What other hobbies and interests do you have? Just how badly do you want to join? This team will consume literally hundreds of hours of your once-free time every year.
Finally, how much time do you spend in town? People who travel a lot may not be very suitable for the team, as they may not be available when required. If your work or recreation keeps you regularly out of town this should be a consideration.
Skill and Equipment Requirements
North Shore Rescue receives up to 100 membership applications each year. Some of these applicants hope that joining the team will turn them into mountaineers. This is not the case! Due to the large variety of mountain and wilderness situations the team can be exposed to, it is simply impossible to provide “from the ground up” training in all of these. The objective of team training is to enhance existing skills, not teach novice ones.
Therefore it is important applicants already have experience in a variety of outdoor situations. Hiking, climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and so forth are all very useful. A mixture of summer and winter experience is very desirable.
A related subject is equipment. It’s assumed that aspiring team members are already experienced “outdoors-type” people. Hence it is also assumed that they already own the appropriate outdoor equipment, such as backpacks, ice-axes, crampons, boots, clothing, and so forth. Team members must be able to travel through a mountain environment in any weather for extended periods of time, and thus need the personal equipment required to do this. Specialized equipment such as a rope-rescue chest harness is provided by the team. However the vast majority of equipment required is normal outdoor gear, and must already be owned by the applicant.
A good knowledge of Vancouver’s north shore mountains is critical. Being familiar with the many peaks, trails and watercourses is invaluable when trying to navigate them at night, in a snowstorm, as part of a search.
Holding a current First Aid certificate is a membership requirement. However, you DO NOT need one to join. First Aid training will be provided upon commencement as a member in training.
What courses should I take to improve my chances of being selected for the team?
While we look for qualifications, we don’t emphasize a specific set of courses and focus more on depth of experience with activities, familiarity with terrain, and skills. What courses you should take depends on your specific experience, courses completed to-date, and areas for growth.
How will my time with the team be spent?
Most people know that the team spends a lot of time responding to calls, however most of your time with the team will be spent on training and other caretaking and administrative contributions. Picture a triangle – at the top of the triangle is the time you spend on calls (relatively small). The next rung of the triangle is the amount of time you spend in training. The bottom of the triangle and how you will spend most of your time is on other team duties from maintaining equipment, to grouse grind patrols, to giving educational presentations, to planning events. We are looking for members who are so committed to the team that they are enthusiastic about contributing to all areas of the team.