Sheldon Koechl, from left, Dawn Unruh, Kaylee Brown-Lauten, and Kevin Unruh were CCSAR members volunteering at the Williams Lake Dirt Riders Association’s Future West Moto Series. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Sheldon Koechl, from left, Dawn Unruh, Kaylee Brown-Lauten, and Kevin Unruh were CCSAR members volunteering at the Williams Lake Dirt Riders Association’s Future West Moto Series. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue to drivers: Slow down, stay away, sober, focused

Volunteers hoping for a breather before winter brings more motor vehicle incidents

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue (CCSAR) is hoping dispatches – and drivers – slow down before winter leads to more motor vehicle incident call outs.

The volunteer organization, which is funded by the Cariboo Regional District for the most part, has been seeing a steep increase in calls for service this year.

In 2021, CCSAR responded to 183 motor vehicle incidents and 31 land search and rescue (SAR) tasks.

Volunteers spent 279 hours on those land SAR tasks.

CCSAR saw a decline in motor vehicle incident call outs during the pandemic, and a small increase in land SAR calls, with 2021 still lower than pre-pandemic.

But now the group is seeing call outs go up as people are back on the roads, and Debra Bortolussi, CCSAR Public Relations Coordinator, said factors like speed, distracted driving, fatigue and drugs and alcohol are often factors.

From Aug. 1 to Sept. 6 this year, there were 23 motor vehicle incidents and five land SAR calls, four of which were to assist an injured person getting out of the backcountry. One call was for an overdue fisherman.

“That’s huge numbers for us,” said Bortolussi. She hopes drivers slow down, pull over when tired, make sure to have a sober ride home and keep their eyes on the road.

“Put your phone in the back seat if you can’t resist,” she suggests.

She said the decrease in motor vehicle incident responses and small increase in land SAR calls during the pandemic makes sense given people were driving less and had more time to get outside, but now things are ramping way up.

She is hoping these call numbers go down before one of their busiest times of the year – the first snowfall – so volunteers can get a bit of a break.

The group has to have two auto-extraction units ready to go, as it isn’t uncommon to have to be responding to two incidents at once.

This is all being done despite having a rescue truck stolen in early April of this year.

As well, while the truck itself was recovered, the tools and equipment had been stripped. The portable and highly specialized vehicle extraction tools were gone, some worth $50,000 each.

Bortolussi said the organization had saved for years, applied for grants and fundraised to have those tools, and it will be a lot of work to raise those funds again. They are asking the public to continue to keep an eye out for anything with their name, logo, stickers or they suspect could be rescue equipment.

Despite the loss, however, CCSAR has managed to outfit two rescue trucks, using a more limited set of equipment which had been on the chief’s truck as “spare.”

Without the more portable tools and some of the rope systems they also lost, some responses will be slower and could be more limited in how they can approach them, explained Bortolussi.

She said as we head into winter, the organization is hoping to continue to recruit more members.

When it comes to enjoying the outdoors, she said the CCSAR advice is: Trip plan, train and take the essentials.

In 2021 CCSAR reported 4,278 hours were spent on land SAR training and practices, which includes special teams, 1,450 hours were spent on auto extrication tasks and 3,350 hours were spent on auto extrication training and practices. Even more hours were spent on communications, radio repairs and upkeep.

The organization also provided six B.C. AdventureSmart presentations for children and youth and attended a number of community events in 2021.

ICBC statistics show vehicle crashes for all of B.C. were down by nearly 10,000 across the province to 18,000 in early 2021 but by the end of the year were back up at the pre-pandemic rate of 27,000 crashes in December alone.

Read more: Search and rescue truck, tools stolen from Williams Lake

Read more: Central Cariboo Search and Rescue recovers stolen items from truck heist in share shed



ruth.lloyd@wltribune.com

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