Ready to res­cue

Wolver­ines to stage open house in Bay Roberts Feb. 26

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

It’s a quiet week­day af­ter­noon and a hand­ful of vol­un­teer mem­bers of the Avalon North Wolver­ines Search and Res­cue Team are gath­ered around a ta­ble at the team’s im­pres­sive, well- kept build­ing on Sta­tion Road in Bay Roberts.

They speak about the team — and its nearly 50 mem­bers — like it’s an ex­ten­sion of their fam­ily. They re­flect on past search and res­cues, share sto­ries of tragedy and sur­vival, and boast about the lat­est piece of equip­ment, an un­der­wa­ter cam­era, to be added to their jaw-drop­ping in­ven­tory.

All are veteran mem­bers of the team, and all bring dif­fer­ent skills and strengths to the group. But one thing they all have in com­mon is their pur­pose for be­ing here — to lend as­sis­tance in a time of dire need.

Among them are team co-or­di­na­tor Perry Bow­er­ing and trea­surer Clyde Mercer. Both were found­ing mem­bers of the team nearly three decades ago, and can eas­ily cap­ti­vate a new­comer for hours with some of their ex­pe­ri­ences, some of which would shock the unini­ti­ated.

Days-long searches for lost souls in the dead of win­ter; risky shore­line re­cov­er­ies of a young per­son’s body; dig­ging on their hands and knees for ev­i­dence at a crime scene; and keep­ing vigil on the sur­face for hours on end as pro­fes­sional divers search be­low for a drown­ing vic­tim.

They share sto­ries of re­cov­er­ing vic­tims of sui­cide, re­pelling down a hair-rais­ing cliff face, and com­fort­ing griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers fol­low­ing the loss of a loved one.

It’s a breath­tak­ing and eye-open­ing con­ver­sa­tion, made even more com­pelling when you con­sider that mem­bers of this un­her­alded team are all vol­un­teers.

Saved lives

But amid the tales of loss and mis­for­tune, there are many more of res­cue and happy end­ings. No one has kept count, but it goes with­out say­ing that the Wolver­ines have saved “nu­mer­ous” lives over the years, and helped many oth­ers from end­ing up in life- threat­en­ing cir­cum­stances.

That’s why Perry Bow­er­ing signed up in 1984. Though he shuns the spot­light, he is the un­of­fi­cial poster boy for search and res­cue teams in this prov­ince, and not just be­cause of his un­tir­ing com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion to the team.

More than 40 years ago, Bow­er­ing’s fa­ther per­ished in the woods, leav­ing be­hind a fam­ily of four young chil­dren and a wife. Perry Bow­er­ing was just six years-of-age.

Fred Bow­er­ing and three oth­ers were on a hunt­ing trip when they got lost. Fred was un­able to walk out, so the three oth­ers went on, plan­ning to re­turn with help.

Ahap­haz­ard search was launched, but it was too late for Fred Bow­er­ing, who was just 35.

If a sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance were to un­fold to­day in this re­gion, you can bet Fred Bow­er­ing’s son would be lead­ing the charge, pulling out ev­ery tool at his dis­posal to ef­fect a suc­cess­ful out­come.

“We would have found him that night,” Perry Bow­er­ing says of his fa­ther. “He was nowhere from the road.”

Se­ri­ous busi­ness

Search and res­cue ca­pa­bil­i­ties have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally over the years, and there’s ar­guably no bet­ter place to ver­ify this than by vis­it­ing the search and res­cue build­ing in Bay Roberts.

Through a com­bi­na­tion of fundrais­ing and gov­ern­ment grants, the team’s in­ven­tory has grown dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. This in­cludes a pickup truck and spe­cially equipped trailer, a van that serves as a com­mand cen­tre, a hov­er­craft, fast- res­cue craft, snow­mo­biles, state-of-the-art nav­i­ga­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment, and much more. The team’s build­ing is fully equipped to serve as a com­mand cen­tre in the event of a dis­as­ter, in­clud­ing gen­er­a­tors and propane­fu­eled ap­pli­ances.

Bow­er­ing es­ti­mates that just un­der $1 mil­lion has been in­vested over the years, mak­ing the Wolver­ines one of the best-equipped and best-trained teams in the prov­ince.

There’s also a highly trained he­li­copte r re­pel ling team and a water/ice res­cue team.

Train­ing is very rig­or­ous, ex­plains Dar­rell Somer­ton, the team’s train­ing co-or­di­na­tor.

To prove his point, Somer­ton un­veils a plaque that is cher­ished by ev­ery mem­ber of the team. It was pre­sented to the Wolver­ines af­ter win­ning the 2008 Search and Res­cue Games, which fea­tured pro­fes­sional teams from through­out Canada and be­yond.

“This is very se­ri­ous busi­ness,” Somer­ton says.

All walks of life

So who are the peo­ple that fill the ranks of the Wolver­ines search and res­cue team? They come from all walks of life, says Deb­bie Whalen, one of about a dozen fe­males on the team.

Whalen is a li­censed prac­ti­cal nurse, for in­stance. There are also law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, mil­i­tary per­son­nel, car­pen­ters, me­chan­ics, ed­u­ca­tors, com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ists and peo­ple who work in the ser­vice in­dus­try.

“We just love what we do,” says Whalen, de­scrib­ing her­self as a “tomboy” who loves spend­ing time in the out­doors.

The team is al­ways look­ing for new mem­bers, but Whalen cau­tions that it is not for ev­ery­body.

“It’s not for the weak of heart,” she says. “You’ve got to know your lim­its.”

Photo by Terry Roberts/The Com­pass

The Avalon North Wolver­ines Search and Res­cue team will host an open house at its premises on Sta­tion Road in Bay Roberts on Sun­day, Feb. 26 from noon to 6 p.m. Shown here in front of some of the team’s build­ing and im­pres­sive in­ven­tory of equip­ment are, from left, Tony Do­minix, Dar­rell Somer­ton and Clyde Mercer.

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