Terrace Search and Rescue vice president Dave Jephson during longline training exercises in 2018. Quinn Bender photo

Terrace Search and Rescue vice president Dave Jephson during longline training exercises in 2018. Quinn Bender photo

Calls to Terrace Search and Rescue fall to zero during pandemic

The good news is a sharp contrast to a provincial spike of 35 per cent in May

It appears outdoor adventurists in the Terrace area are playing it safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the province incurred a 35 per cent spike in search and rescue incidents in the first week of May, locally there have been none. In fact, Terrace Search and Rescue (TSAR) hasn’t been mobilized since April 25.

The ongoing pandemic is bringing an extra layer of concern for search and rescue groups across the province.

In March, as the pandemic accelerated, TSAR pleaded with residents to exercise extreme caution in the outdoors over concerns of COVID-19 exposure to members, and reduced emergency healthcare capacity in hospitals.

READ MORE: Preventable accidents may impede Search and Rescue capacity during pandemic

Of great concern were large numbers of people socializing in the Shames Mountain parking lot and hiking up the mountain for trail and backcountry runs.

The good news now, TSAR vice president Dave Jephson said, is that people listened and scaled back their activities.

“We didn’t get any calls,” he said. “I think people were listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry and following the guidelines. As a whole, we’re very happy that we didn’t have an increase in calls with people going out. We know the hiking trails and mountain bike trails are packed, and I think it’s great that people are getting out and enjoying nature, but they’re also being conscious of their activities.”

READ MORE: Canada’s national parks, historic sites to be at least partially reopened by June 1

Along with most search and rescue organizations, TSAR has halted training to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19 and are participating in online courses and meetings to ensure their readiness should they receive a call for assistance.

But Jephson said self-imposed isolation could be lost if volunteers answer the call for help and a dozen emergency responders come together to assist in the rescue of someone they do not know. It’s a concern echoed last week by BC Search and Rescue Association senior manager, Dwight Yochim.

“Those individuals put on personal protective equipment, they mask the subject and when the task is over, they have to disinfect their equipment,” Yochim said. “Every step of the way they have been placed at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and now so have their families.”

READ MORE: Most of B.C.’s provincial parks to reopen today, visitors asked to physically distance

As the May long weekend approaches, search and rescue organizations are urging outdoorspeople to stay the course and to explore within the community, instead of venturing to other regions, as well as create space for users on trails in order to practise physical distancing and wear personal protective equipment – such as masks – when necessary.

– with files from Ashley Wadhwani

Terrace Search and Rescue is the most advanced volunteer rescue organization in northern B.C., in the midst of building a new headquarters to streamline training and equipment upkeep, and boost response times. In addition to government grants, the project is primarily funded by the community through donations of labour, supplies and money. The organization has spent $1.2 million to date and is $400,000 short of its completion target.