As one of the busiest search and rescue teams in the province, Chilliwack Search and Rescue (SAR) has been anxiously awaiting some uplifting funding news from the B.C. government.
The long-awaited funding boost from the province wasn’t in last month’s budget but it did materialize in another form.
The announcement of $18.6 million over three years from the province that was made in Coquitlam on March 23 to help replace SAR equipment and bolster training for the 80 teams across B.C. including Chilliwack’s.
“We had two reactions to the announcement,” Doug Fraser, search manager for Chilliwack SAR said about the $18.6 million.
“We are thrilled that government has made the largest funding announcement of its kind in the history of Search and Rescue. It’s going to provide some surety with budgeting and planning, and it also provides funds for critical incident stress management training.”
That stress management program is run by SAR volunteers who support other members when impacted by traumatic incidents.
“The other group that stands to benefit is a group called Adventure Smart, an education program for mostly children and teens but everyone can benefit, to prevent incidents from occurring,” Fraser said.
The funding will cover items that SAR groups struggle to pay for, and there was acknowledgement that it is interim funding, while a long-term model comes together.
“The City of Chilliwack and Fraser Valley Regional District are very supportive and helpful as well, but the bulk of our costs are for things we have to fundraise, write grant proposals, or rely on donations for.”
A small chunk of the funding will see a couple of staff hired at Emergency Management BC to work with BC SAR Association on a new governance model and a funding model for longer-term funding that is ongoing and sustainable.
“That long-term funding is still the ultimate goal here,” Fraser underlined.
There was no provincial funding for things like SAR training, equipment and insurance prior to 2016, he noted.
But in 2015, the BC SAR Association proposed an Alternative Support Model to rectify that, with a rationale for “stable, ongoing funding” and the province responded with a two-year funding package.
“We are just coming to the end of that funding, which is why the funding announcement was seen as a relief for the most part,” Fraser said. “At the same time, our reaction contains some disappointment, in that they have been able to study our Alternative Support Model for three years.”
They hired consultants to develop the alternate funding model, and received a report.
“So for them to delay a decision on ongoing funding for another three years is a little mystifying.
“I’m not sure what else there is to learn over these next three years, but nonetheless that’s the plan,” concluded Fraser. “Still the message we have received is a pretty clear indication that they want to see this through for us.
“The province has acknowledged the validity and necessity of supporting SAR. We are an emergency service that is vital.”
B.C. has 80 SAR groups comprising 2,500 volunteers, answering an estimated 1,700 calls per year.