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North Shore Rescue predicts jump in calls as outdoor COVID-19 rules loosened

Last Updated Mar 12, 2021 at 10:09 am PDT

FILE -- North Shore Rescue crews search for a missing hiker near Cypress Mountain (Eric Lai, CityNews)
Summary

B.C. has loosened restrictions on outdoor gatherings, prompting concerns from North Shore Rescue

NSR says it fears calls for help will spike with people now allowed to gather with others outdoors

2020 marked a record year for North Shore Rescue

NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – We’re not even three months into the year and already North Shore Rescue is being inundated with calls for help, with early predictions the team could see another record-breaking year.

The number of operations the search and rescue group has responded to so far is in the 40s, which is the same level they typically see in May. Some rescues take hours, others last through the night.

NSR team lead Mike Danks, who’s been with the volunteer group for about 25 years, says with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry loosening outdoor COVID-19 rules to allow up to 10 people to gather, he fears they could see a spike in calls in the coming weeks and months.

“It’s been an extremely busy year and there’s no doubt we’re going to see even more people getting out into the backcountry and this isn’t just a North Shore thing, this is throughout the province,” he explains. “All the teams have had a huge increase in calls and our hope is that people can get out and enjoy the backcountry safely. But, in order to do that they need to be prepared and do some research on the hike they’re doing.”

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He wouldn’t be surprised if, given the change to the rules, people got together and hit the mountains this weekend.

“There’s no doubt we have a lot of novices that are getting out and they are naïve to the dangers, especially around avalanche safety and winter travel. But on the same token, we’re seeing some very experienced people that are having trouble too, so it’s definitely spread out amongst those different groups,” Danks explains.

He says with the combination of amended public health rules and nice weather, the team is admittedly worried about public safety.

“It is concerning, for sure, and I think the key to this is education and prevention,” Danks tells NEWS 1130. “Our team is really adapting to meet the current call volume. We’ve built capacity within our organization and we also have great relationships with our neighbouring teams and we’re able to share resources to cover these situation. I’m not trying to say it’s a good thing the call volume has gone up but we are handling it well as a collective group.”

Despite the concerns, he doesn’t want people to be afraid to call for help if they get lost or trapped.

“Please do your research on the trail you’re going to do. Make sure it’s appropriate to your group’s fitness level, not to the highest person [but] to the lowest common denominator,” he says. “Don’t split up. If you do get off trail, do not continue downhill [and] make the call for help. The ideal circumstance is we can guide you back to the trail and we won’t have to respond, but if we have to respond, we rather to do that earlier than later when it’s dark out and you’re in more hazardous terrain.”

Despite suggestions from people that NSR should charge for rescues, Danks stresses there are no plans to do that.

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As it deals with the uptick in calls, the group is also actively recruiting for new members to help balance the workload.

“We want to bring in some fresh blood, if you will, that’s keen to get out and I think it’s important for anyone who’s interested to not think, ‘If you join North Shore Rescue, you’re flying around in helicopters.’ You start out at the bottom, you’re pounding the trails, doing the grunt work, helping clean the facilities and make sure things are ready. But we certainly need some great new members,” adds Danks.

The team is currently using new night-vision imaging systems. Previously, that kind of technology had only been restricted to other organizations like the police or military, and the provincial government hopes to gather data from this pilot project to figure out how critical it is for teams like NSR to have those capabilities.

NSR set a record in 2020 with 151 call-outs.

For anyone heading out to the trails, NSR recommends 10 essentials to bring along.