Three members of Central Cariboo Search and Rescue (CCSAR) reached an impressive milestone this year by accruing the most training hours in the province for 2020.
Dawn Unruh amassed 637 hours, her husband Kevin Unruh achieved 627 hours and Sheldon Koechl gained 553 hours.
“I’m really excited, it is the first year we’ve made the top five,” said Rick White, CCSAR chief, noting that also takes into consideration that COVID-19 precautions did not allow training from mid-March through May and then was stopped again four weeks ago.
The Unruhs joined CCSAR in the winter 2017 and Koechl, 24, joined two years ago when he moved to Williams Lake from Surrey to work for West Fraser Sawmill.
Dawn said the bulk of her and Kevin’s hours came from training for wild land rope rescue technician two level and Koechl’s for the wild land rope rescue technician level one.
“We put in a lot of hours on ropes,” Kevin said. “We had swift water and all that too, but ropes was definitely our main focus.”
They were also training for ice rescue, ground search and rescue, mapping, compassing and stretcher handling.
Those training hours were on top of volunteer hours as a search manager and training officer for Dawn.
Koechl also does auto extraction and they all help with hall maintenance and cleaning of vehicles.
All member hours are entered into a data base by each search and rescue organizations, said Dwight Yochim, senior manager with B.C. Search and Rescue.
“We track pretty much everything from incidents to training, equipment to personnel and they use that to track the training to make sure they are staying up to the standards that are required,” Yochim told the Tribune. “A lot of teams in the province do a weekend a month and a night or two a week that they do training on, but it has been a bit more difficult this year because of COVID.”
Yochim said there are more than 2,500 search and rescue members in B.C.
“We don’t call them volunteers, we call them unpaid professionals. They really are. The calibre of training they are at is unbelievable.”
Dawn said her commitment to CCSAR is to help people and said she stays because of the family-feeling she and Kevin have with the rest of the team.
“I love the training too — those are the reasons I stay.”
Kevin agreed, saying the friendships they’ve made with CCSAR have been a big reason to stay, as well as the training, which he said pushes them and is fun.
“Also, the fact that some day I may need help out in the wilderness and this is my way of giving back for when I need it,” Kevin added.
Koechl said working so closely together they automatically become family and ‘super tight.’
The training experience inspires him to improve, he added.
“Overall everything here is great — CCSAR does not disappoint.”
When they aren’t volunteering or training, the Unruhs and Koechl mountain bike, kayak and snowmobile together.
“We are actually friends besides CCSAR,” Kevin said. “We wouldn’t have even known him if we did not join CCSAR.”
Smiling, Koechl said Dawn and Kevin are big inspiration to him and while training for the rope rescue technician certification they pushed him to succeed.
Dawn said members spent a long weekend in the bush running systems in advance of the test and they also spent time practicing with search and rescue groups in the South Cariboo, Prince George, Kamloops and Clearwater.
All three agreed volunteering with CCSAR is a big commitment, but it has huge rewards.
Yochim said some people are more dedicated or into the training more than others, but basically it’s what it takes to do the 1,700 tasks across the province each year.
“We might be breaking a few records this year. I know we were well above our record in July and August and we might be heading into that this year as well,” he added, noting many businesses have had record numbers in sales of snowmobiles and backcountry skis.
A lot of the training done by SAR is essential and the pandemic has only raised the bar for members to be more diligent.
“I think we are on 16 announcements on COVID alone to help the teams out with guidance.”