When it comes to volunteering, 2021 was a year apart for North Shore Rescue.
Between rescues and training, the 45 active and 20 resource members put in 13,800 hours, according to the team’s estimates – about 4,000 more than their previous record.
While they don’t officially track the time they put in doing administrative tasks, fundraising, maintenance or public education, it’s likely there’s another 4,000 hours there.
“It’s kind of hard to fathom,” said Mike Danks, team leader. “I think it just becomes a part of your life, and you just need to find that balance that works for your family.”
There’s a host of backgrounds and skills within the team’s membership, but Danks said what’s common among all members is passion for the outdoors and a compulsion to help.
“There’s a real belief in what we’re doing as a team – that it is making a huge impact for the community, and people are proud to be a part of our team,” he said.
But, bringing people home and keeping families whole doesn’t come cheap.
Emergency Management BC covers the cost of helicopter time. Municipal grants cover about six per cent of their budget, while another 17 per cent comes from provincial grants.
Amazingly though, 51 per cent of the team’s annual costs for training and equipment are covered by cheques that arrive in the mail. Another 15 per cent comes from donations online.
Because of their position next to Canada’s largest western city, North Shore Rescue gets a lot of attention, but Danks said it feels incredible to see that support.
“I can’t stress enough how fortunate we are,” Danks said. “Some of the notes that are written on social media and in the donation cheques, it’s really heartwarming to hear what people say and how they’ve been affected.”
People who have been rescued tend to be reliable donors. There are also community organizations and events that help the team, like the Rotary Ride for Rescue.
But there’s always a worry that funding will dry up or donations will tail off. With the volume of rescue calls climbing higher every year, the team has hard costs that won’t change. To keep various certifications current, like long-line rescues or avalanche assessments, training is constant. And gear wears out and needs to be replaced.
And, no, charging for rescues is not on the table, nor will it ever be, Danks said, no matter how many Facebook comments there are telling them they should. Fear of being charged for a rescue will delay people from calling for help. That makes the search more difficult and risky for everyone, including the team. And charging people for being rescued would be antithetical to what motivates volunteers to get out of bed and head into the mountains in the first place, he added.
There may come a time when it’s no longer possible to carry out the team’s duties on a volunteer basis alone, Danks said, but for now, they must rely on others’ good will to keep them going.
If people want to target their donations to a specific program or capital need, sponsorships can be arranged, he added.
The team needs to replace of both their Cap Gate and Bone Creek SAR stations, which have reached the end of their useful lives. And Danks wants his members trained to do helicopter extractions in darkness.
“Our night hoist program is a very costly venture, but it’s one that we believe in, and we feel very confident that it will save lives and also provide additional safety for our members at night,” he said.
Anyone who does contribute to the North Shore Rescue can know they have some ownership in the team’s success, he added.
“If we didn’t have the community supporting us, we would not be able to do what we’re doing. We wouldn’t have the equipment. We wouldn’t have the high level of training,” he said. “I really see it as the community empowering us.”
Donations can be arrange via northshorerescue.com/fundraising.
This story was included in a special feature section of the North Shore News in print on Jan. 26, 2022. The entire feature can be viewed in our digital edition archives.