Ready to rescue
Wolverines to stage open house in Bay Roberts Feb. 26
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.
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.”
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.”
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.