Search and Rescue teams fight for support
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.”