Balmy Summers Bring More Work for SAR Volunteers

Managing volunteer burnout can be a big challenge for SAR volunteers. Above, SAR volunteers B.J Chute, John Howe, and Mike Teski.

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Aug. 11, 2012

For most people, summer is synonymous with outdoor fun and relaxation.

For braveheart volunteers at the Squamish Search and Rescue (SAR), summer is the time to buckle up and wait for distress calls.

It’s the busiest time of the year. There are people on every imaginable hike, and it’s not too long before someone calls in with a plea for help.

July this year, however, has been relatively easy on the volunteers.

They attended only 20 rescue calls, compared to more than the 30 calls they attended last year.

A majority of calls are from the Squamish Chief Mountain, where weary visitors sometimes get lost on side trails or twist their ankles while hiking down.

“Most of the Chief calls are related to injured hikers.  Mountain biking injury accidents and water rescue calls in the local rivers are also fairly frequent,” Howe said.

Last week, the volunteers rescued a hiker from Garibaldi Provincial Park who suffered a stroke.

Another couple was rescued from a trail on the Chief Mountain on the weekend. This year, volunteers have also rescued people who went missing from Squamish Valley. A kayaker lost at the Squamish River was also rescued.

If this year is slow, then the last two years have been the busiest for the volunteers.

Volunteers attended to an average of 50 calls last year, with a fair share coming in the summer.

In 2011, volunteers responded to nearly 48 calls, with a large number on the weekends.

In 2010, members responded to 50 calls, and once again, most of them were in the summer.

Mike Teske, a member of the forest service, said being a community volunteer is an extremely satisfying experience for him.

Still, some summers have been hard, as the members strive to balance rescue effort with devoting time to the family during summer months.    

There have been times when members were called more than three times a week, with each rescue taking up anywhere from four to six hours a week.

It’s one of the challenges the team faces.

“It’s a difficult balance of family, work, and SAR”, said search manager John Howe.

“Trying to manage volunteer “burn out” is always a challenge as our members strive to meet training requirements and expectations.,”

 There are 70 volunteers in the search and rescue team, said B.J Chute, who is also the chief of B.C. Ambulance Service Station in Squamish.

“We generally take in new volunteers every two to three years,” Howe said.



  1. Don Patrick says:

    Just keep in mind that all volunteers are part of the big picture… they are worth their weight, but some of us can remember when the Ambulance was a station wagon driven by volunteers, sure some people probably did not make it but at least had a cheap chance… know the service is a milllions dollar operation with people making it a career choice. Most Firefighters were volunteers that formed a worth while boys club… lots of fun and gave you the extra mile… which by the way many people were doing back to the 18th century for nothing…. then some Insurance company decided they could reduce the loss damage with private fire squads and history has done its duty… now they are organized and trained to do a specific tasks and cost millions. They are not heros as the press would like little people to believe, they are highly trained to do a specific job and should complete the task at hand. If they cannot, maybe should hang up the boots. It started off a cheap way, but now we are paying the price. Same for the SAR… well do not hold your breath, these folks will get bored doing it for nothing and in the near future we will have another million dollar invoice for the tax payer…. so if you keep wanting, you will eventually get your wish. Maybe time to think out all these expensive services that are a burden on the taxpayer and not contributing to the overall economy. Yes they do bring peace of mind to a lot of people and do reduce save property damage etc… but can we afford the services ? Maybe there should be restrictions to what justifies a normal recreational adventure. Please do not over react, it is just a thot followed by question.