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SAR teams worried about possible spike in calls this long weekend

Last Updated Jul 31, 2020 at 2:10 pm PDT

North Shore Rescue located a hiker with an ankle injury on Elsay Lake trail and long lined him out earlier this week. (Courtesy North Shore Rescue, Facebook)

There has been a steady uptick in call-outs recently for search and rescue teams across the province

SAR teams are sounding the alarm as more people stay close to home and explore B.C. this long weekend

North Shore members have been out on calls almost daily for the last three weeks

NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a steady uptick in call-outs recently for search and rescue teams across the province.

There were 75 operations carried out between July 20 and Sunday, according to AdventureSmart BC.

Now, teams are raising the alarm about seeing a big jump in those calls as more people stay close to home and explore B.C.’s backcountry this long weekend.

The pandemic has made things complicated for rescue teams. Especially with the hot weather, it’s difficult as volunteers are wearing personal protective equipment, such as masks and face shields, in some cases.

North Shore Rescue is the busiest team in the province. Currently, the team has responded to more than 80 calls.

Team leader Mike Danks said members have been out on calls almost daily for the last three weeks, which could be an indicator of how the rest of the year could go.

“We’re kind of in the groove, if you will. We’ve certainly done an availability request with all of our members for this weekend to make sure we have people in town.”

He said in the past three weeks, they’ve seen a lot of people with ankle injuries.

“An incredible amount of ankle injuries, so a lot of preventable injuries because people are wearing runners and getting to areas that they typically don’t get into which just shows people are really exploring a lot more. We’ve had a number of people that haven’t eaten or hydrated themselves before going out on a fairly substantial hike so that’s led to them obviously not having the energy to finish the hike, getting faint, getting dizzy and not being prepared for the general conditions.”

BC Search and Rescue stats (source: AdventureSmart BC):

  • July 1 – 26, 2019 = 152 SAR incidents
  • July 1 – 26, 2020 = 150 incidents
  • July average = 173 incidents

(NOTE: Some SAR groups did three calls simultaneously and four calls in a span of 24 hours.)

Danks added the standard trails most people use have gotten clogged as the weather warms up so more people are venturing off the beaten path, which is dangerous.

“We’ve had to adapt because [of the pandemic] and we need to send less people in because we want to make sure that we maintain a stock of PPE that’s always ready. And because we’ve had so many calls, we want to make sure we’re not burning out our members so we’re being strategic about our responses, limiting the amount of people [and] making sure we have back-up teams in place.”

He also said the weather plays a big part in the number of people who venture out.


“It’s really about making sure the hike you’re doing is appropriate to your fitness level, doing the research on that hike so you know where you’re going, that you’ll have ample daylight hours to complete it, that you have food and water with you, that you make sure you tell somebody where you’re going, what time you’re expected back, have a fully charged cellphone and do anticipate that phone may not get coverage. If you’re going into more remote areas, you need to have a satellite device with you, for sure. And always try to go with someone else.”

North Shore Rescue set a record for the number of call-outs in 2018 with 144 and Danks says if they stay on this current pace, they may break that record again.

Squamish SAR, which is also seeing dealing with more calls, echoes the same messaging outlined by North Shore.

Squamish manager Landon James says they’re also seeing people avoid the typical hot spots, like Garibaldi Provincial Park or the Squamish Chief, and he says some of their rescues are preventable.

“If you know how to find your GPS coordinates on your phone through the compass app or whatever app you have, that’s really helpful to 911 operators and it gets the message through to us quicker.”

If you don’t know what to pack when you’re heading out, click here.