Search and Res­cue teams fight for sup­port

The Queens County Advance - - NEWS - By Amy Wool­vett

Nova Sco­tia’s vol­un­teer ground search and res­cue work­ers may be forced to with­draw their emer­gency ser­vices, due to a lack of li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance.

“ The con­cern of third party li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance claims against search and res­cue vol­un­teers made in­ter­na­tional news when a Que­bec cou­ple be­came lost and the wife died, in the moun­tains near Golden Bri­tish Columbia,” said Tony Rogers, spokesper­son for the pro­vin­cial as­so­ci­a­tion.

The in­ci­dent lead to a law­suit against the Golden search and res­cue team and sparked teams in Nova Sco­tia to look for gov­ern­ment sup­port for pro­tec­tion.

“ This de­ci­sion did not come eas­ily for the direc­tors. Search­ing for a lost per­son is an emer­gency and find­ing the lost per­son in the best pos­si­ble con­di­tion is a guid­ing prin­ci­ple of th­ese teams. They are ded­i­cated un­paid pro­fes­sion­als. How­ever, the pro­tec­tion of our own fam­i­lies from the fi­nan­cial loss of a po­ten­tial lit­i­ga­tion also has to be fac­tored into the con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Rogers.

Next week Rogers will be meet­ing with the Min­is­ter of Emer­gency Man­age­ment with hopes of re­solv­ing the is­sue.

“ We hope we do not have to with­draw our ser­vices,” said Rogers. “It does not sound right to our own ears.”

As well as search­ing for lost per­sons, the group also aide in evac­u­a­tions, ev­i­dence searches, and emer­gen­cies dur­ing flood­ing, fires and power out­ages.

Don Bower a mem­ber of the Bar­ring­ton Search and Res­cue team for close to 40 years says that in­sur­ance for its mem­bers has been an on­go­ing is­sue for too long.

Not only is third party li­a­bil­ity a nec­es­sary pro­tec­tion for the vol­un­teer run group but also worker’s com­pen­sa­tion is an­other in­sur­ance des­per­ately needed.

“Many of our searches are done at night,” said Bower. “And is fraught with dan­ger.”

He re­called when one of their mem­bers was in­jured on a search af­ter fall­ing down a beaver hole and was un­able to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion.

Bower said they have had re­peated dis­cus­sions with the gov­ern­ment on all lev­els on pro­tect­ing the teams but to no res­o­lu­tion.

“It’s been a long, long strug­gle on how to pro­tect the men and women who do the best job the can,” said Bower. “If the gov­ern­ment has to hire their own teams without the ser­vice of the vol­un­teers it will be at astro­nom­i­cal costs.”

Rogers said this is not un­prece­dented for a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to sup­port the teams for in­sur­ance and al­though the cost of in­sur­ance is too much of a bur­den for search and res­cue team’s tight bud­get, the cost is not great for the gov­ern­ment.

Rogers said the cost would be $1,200 per team, equal­ing about $30,000 per year to pro­vide cov­er­age.

Bower said that with their lim­ited $3,000 bud­get per year time fundrais­ing for in­sur­ance pro­tec­tion would eat up the valu­able time the mem­bers need to train for emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

“Search and res­cue is not a mat­ter of go­ing out and hop­ing and wish­ing to find the lost per­son it is a mat­ter of sci­ence,” ex­plained Rogers.

“ We look at ter­rain, weather, clues and at the lost per­son’s be­havioural pro­file,” said Bower.

Rogers re­mem­bers a typ­i­cal day on the job for search and res­cue vol­un­teers when a hunter in the Gold Lake area was sit­ting in his blind and shot a deer. The hunter fol­lowed the wounded deer as it zigzagged through the woods un­til he fi­nally stopped and re­al­ized he had gone too far from his start­ing point and was lost. The snow was wet and the air cold and a se­vere storm was blow­ing in.

When the man failed to re­turn home the RCMP called in the Bar­ring­ton Search and Res­cue team. A quick as­sess­ment of the team lead them to the lo­ca­tion of the man us­ing groups of three teams stomp­ing through the woods. When the lost man was found a fire was started to warm him up as he was mildly hy­pother­mic.

“He got home safe and it was a happy end­ing,” said Bower. “ The kind we like to have.”

He is hop­ing that the sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing the gov­ern­ment’s sup­port has a happy end­ing as well.

“At this time what our mem­ber­ship re­quire is ap­pro­pri­ate and ad­e­quate in­sur­ance and a guar­an­tee of le­gal sup­port from the prov­ince should a claim be brought for­ward,” said Rogers. “ We don’t think this is too much to ask for the ser­vice we pro­vide to the peo­ple of Nova Sco­tia.”

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