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2022 a major step forward for North Shore Rescue

Discover how the North Shore Rescue volunteer team reached new heights in this story from a special feature section of the North Shore News
North Shore Rescue members carry out a helicopter extraction from the North Vancouver backcountry, Jan. 26, 2021. | Maria Masiar / North Shore Rescue

North Shore Rescue was called upon 142 times in 2022, a small reprieve after the record-smashing 226 the year before.

But even with fewer missions into the mountains, it doesn’t mean the volunteers have been getting rusty, said team leader Mike Danks.

Team members put in about 4,100 hours while on rescue tasks, according to NSR. They logged another 2,600 hours in training time and, though the team doesn’t officially track the time put into administrative, public education and maintenance tasks, there’s something like another 4,000 hours there.

And even with call volumes down, 142 is still extremely busy – only 2021, 2020 and 2018 had higher volumes.

“It really ebbed and flowed and we certainly had some busy times,” Danks said. “Even when we’re really busy, we’re still managing.… Being busy is kind of a good thing for us.”

The return to more “normal” call volumes in 2022 is likely related to the end of COVID-19 restrictions, which curtailed most indoor recreation activities in 2021, Danks said. It was also a quieter year for wildfires, which the team is sometimes asked to help respond to.

Helicopter help

Just under half of the calls in 2022 involved the use of a helicopter. Thanks to Talon Helicopters’ acquisition of an Airbus AS365N2 Dauphin with night-vision flying capabilities and a hoist, rescues in difficult terrain are becoming far more efficient, Danks said. They made use of the night vision 13 times. The helicopter’s hoist was put to work 21 times.

After years of push-and-pull with the province, NSR was finally given approval to use both their night vision and hoist tech simultaneously in October. They carried out their first night hoist rescue just before Christmas.

“[The Dauphin] changed the way that we’re responding to calls and it’s really made things a lot safer. I think that’s been a big pivot for us as we’re no longer rushing to beat daylight,” he said.

In July, the team set a record for the fastest ever helicopter rescue – 38 minutes from the time they were alerted to a hiker having cardiac issues on St. Mark’s Summit to when he was handed over to B.C. Ambulance Service.

“That’s when it really sunk in about how quick and efficient we’ve become,” he said.

No North Shore backcountry deaths

Deaths in the backcountry always weigh heavily on the team, Danks said, but amazingly, there were no fatalities on the trails or mountaintops within North Shore Rescue’s turf in 2022. The year before, there were seven.

Danks said he’d like to think of that as a testament to the work of the team along with the police and fire agencies they work with. He also expressed hope that efforts in trail safety education are paying dividends. More initiatives aimed at preventing people from getting into trouble in the first place will be a big focus in the coming years, Danks said.

“We want to front load our involvement in the community at a younger age, if we can,” he said.

On nine occasions, the team was mobilized to help in urban searches for seniors or people with dementia who had wandered off.

Rescuing the rescuers

Danks said his biggest fear is donations tailing off. The team relies on donations to keep members certified, which requires constant training, and well equipped. Some of the team’s biggest pieces of infrastructure are starting to crumble and are badly in need of replacement. In addition to their rescue commitments, day jobs and personal lives, Danks and other team members must also search out sponsors and donors to keep their mission going.

“I really want to stress to people that we are so fortunate that we get such incredible support from the community,” he said. “We really need consistent funding on a regular basis, regardless of our call volume, because those expenses are there all the time. They don’t go away.”

Looking back, Danks said he swells with pride when he thinks of the achievements his members made in the last year.

“I have to express my appreciation for the dedication and commitment of the membership. They alone have made this a seamless year. 2022 may have only been 140-some calls, but they all went extremely well,” he said. “We have new leaders emerging in this team and the future looks bright.”

This story appeared as part of a special North Shore Rescue feature section in the Jan. 25, 2023, edition of the North Shore News. You can find out more in this article about North Shore Rescue's world-class advanced medical provider resource team, as well as this story about a new book that gets to the heart of volunteer rescue teams. You can see the entire feature as a digital edition here

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