Members of the Central Cariboo Search and Rescue give selflessly to the community all year long, and even at Christmas time, it is not uncommon for CCSAR volunteers to stay home for the holidays in case they are needed to respond to an emergency.
During an auto-ex practice, Thursday night at the CCSAR hall, the Tribune interviewed members and the majority said they will be on call Christmas Day.
Chief Rick White has been a CCSAR member for 25 years and said when it comes to being called out on Christmas Day it depends on the weather.
“It’s a crap shoot. We’ve had the odd call on Christmas Day but at eight or nine at night, usually MVIs. I’ve done two RCMP evidence searches for weapons on Christmas Eve.”
CCSAR is ready to respond 24/7 and there is always a crew in town.
“All it takes is a text to the group or a call on the radio.”
Earlier this fall a local citizen anonymously donated $25,000 to CCSAR to replace some of the items that were stolen from the hall on April 3, 2022.
Looking like a kid in a candy shop, White held up a new Holmatro Combi tool (Jaws of Life), purchased with $15,000 of the donation.
Leading the Tribune to a table covered in ropes, harnesses and clips, he said the other $10,000 went toward them.
Dawn Unruh, a land SAR training officer, said last winter was quiet but in the middle of June things picked up and have been non-stop since. Call numbers are up from last year.
During the winter incidents that keep them busy are finding Christmas tree hunters, snowmobilers not prepared, people injured while mountain biking or quad crashes or people getting lost or stuck.
Unruh sticks around at Christmas always because if there is an incident she wants to help.
“We try and bring somebody home.”
Recently CCSAR installed a radio repeater tower at Yanks Peak on the existing Williams Lake Powder King Snowmobile Club cabin and run off the club’s solar panel.
“We never had any kind of radio communication out there for when we go on searches and we do Yanks quite a bit,” Unruh said. “It took us about a year to get it all planned out.”
They flew in with Frontline Helicopters to take the equipment in.
Sometimes they can go in on existing infrastructure or they build their own repeater site.
There are also CCSAR radio repeaters at Esler, Bull Mountain, Spud Mountain, Pevine Mountain, Timothy, and Deer Ridge.
West Chilcotin SAR has access to the repeaters and CCSAR has access to theirs, as well as Quesnel.
“We all work together,” Unruh said.
White said a repeater site is roughly $20,000 to $25,000.
Shy of nine years with CCSAR on the auto-ex team, Bob Piderman says every other year he stays in Williams Lake to be on call if needed over Christmas.
“We like to go see our grandkids,” he said.
Rod Klatt has been with CCSAR about three and a half years and recalls one Christmas Eve when there were three calls back-to-back with vehicles over an embankment near Sheep Creek Bridge.
Klatt has been involved with emergency services for a decade and was with the Coast Guard stationed out of Delta and North Vancouver.
“When I moved to Williams Lake for work, I was looking for something to do on the side and this was up my alley,” Klatt said of CCSAR.
Piderman said when the pager goes off “it’s become a fact of life.”
“Whoever is around sees the back of me. My wife is beyond understanding and encouraging,” Piderman said, adding sometimes it is his employer who also sees the back of him.
Klatt has three small children and from their living room will sit at the window and watch emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens go by on the highway.
Klatt and Piderman will be on call during Christmas.
Sheldon Koechl moved to Williams Lake 12 years ago as a young teenager.
He started out with cadets and four years ago joined CCSAR.
Being on call is something he has come to accept wholeheartedly.
“I’d rather see someone get home safe at the end of the day,” Koechl said, adding he enjoys the experience 100 per cent. “SAR is a passion that keeps me going. I literally couldn’t do anything better – the training, the experience, the people you meet the places you go. It gives you such amazing skills in life as well.”
He wouldn’t give it up for the world, he added.
The biggest search he participated in so far were three-day searches in Dunkley and one in Williams Lake in 2021 on South Lakeside.
Adam Moreash joined in April 2020 and volunteers with auto-ex and completed his first responder ticket to add the medical side of things to make himself more ‘well-rounded.’
That experience led to pursuing employment at BC Emergency Health Services where he is presently a driver but will be completing his emergency medical responder licensing in December.
Moreash was living in Ontario and arrived in Williams Lake with the Canadian Red Cross emergency management recovery during the 2017 wildfires and decided to stay.
Neil Sukert joined two years ago. Previously he was a member of the Horsefly Volunteer Fire Department.
“When I moved to town I wanted something to do and I looked into this operation and have really enjoyed it. I knew a couple people that were in it already and they told me I had to come and check it out.”
Sukert said icy roads in November prompted a few calls, and often the calls come during hall dinners where everyone gets together.
“We have barbecues in the summertime.”
Eighteen-year-old Steven Campbell is the only junior member presently and said he joined at the beginning of September 2021. He does both land SAR and auto-ex.
When he was in cadets, the program visited CCSAR one evening and a year later he decided he was old enough to join.
“I love every second of it,” he said.
Auto-ex captain Krista Harvey joined five years ago and also loves all of CCSAR.
“For me it’s about saving lives.”
Harvey belonged to search and rescue in Sicamous many years ago and had always wanted to get back into it.
Now that her children are older she has been able to.
One of the most difficult aspects of being on CCSAR is when calls involve people she knows.
“The ones that stick out the most are when they are young people and you know their parents,” Harvey said. “Right now the hardest part is my children are teenagers and they are getting to driving ages and all their friends are driving. I worry every day.”
Membership is low for the first time in years, White said.
“We encourage anyone interested to check us out.”