Norman Wells creates own SAR unitDrowning of young pilot in 2014 highlighted need for rescue group
Northern News Services
Monday, July 10, 2017
LLI GOLINE/NORMAN WELLS
Volunteers in Norman Wells are hard at work establishing the Sahtu region's only Search and Rescue (SAR) unit, says the group's vice president.
Jaime Kearsey, president of the Sahtu Search and Rescue Society, stands with the society's float in the Norman Wells Canada Day parade on July 1. Kearsey and other Norman Wells volunteers are creating the Sahtu region's only search and rescue unit. - photo courtesy of Jaime Kearsey
"It's been a long process but in the last year, everything is starting to pick up really fast," said Robin Doctor, vice president of the Sahtu Search and Rescue Society.
The decision to create a SAR unit in Norman Wells came after the death of Richard St. Germain, a 21-year-old North-Wright Airways pilot who drowned while canoeing on the Mackenzie River in July, 2014.
St. Germain and a woman had been out for an evening paddle when they fell into the river at about 9 p.m. on July 15. Boaters managed to rescue the woman, but were unable to find St. Germain. A recovery effort involving Norman Wells residents and residents of nearby communities found his body on July 23.
Jaime Kearsey, president of the society, said the experience highlighted the need for an established SAR unit and the importance of official logistics planning.
"There were a lot of people coming in from the communities and our community was helping," she said. "You get 100 people coming in and it's like, where do we put them? How do we feed them? The whole community came together to make that happen. We thought we need something a little more structured and legalized to do this."
There are currently ten official SAR volunteers in Norman Wells, but others are helping out when they can by offering equipment such as boats.
"Until we're fully trained and we get our own equipment, we're kind of just using our own stuff," Kearsey said.
When RCMP receive a call for help, officers contact Kearsey who then gets in touch with SAR members and makes arrangements based on whether the rescue requires air, water or land equipment.
Depending on the distance from Norman Wells, rescuers sometimes have to wait on helicopter assistance from Yellowknife.
"In these cases timing is of the essence," Kearsey said. "When we've gotta call Yellowknife to rescue someone in the mountains, you're looking at a few hours before it even comes together."
Having a SAR headquartered in Norman Wells will help cut down on the time it takes for rescuers to reach those who need help. It will also provide assistance to other communities, Kearsey added.
"Our main hub we're looking to have in Norman Wells and then once we get this set up, our five year goal is to have a few people in each community that are fully trained, that are on the same guidelines as us," she said.
Because it's too expensive to send individuals out of Norman Wells for training, the group is aiming to bring trainers from established SAR units into the community.
The group is now in the process of putting together proposals in the hope of receiving government funding, but they are also organizing local fundraisers to raise money for equipment and other necessary costs, such as gas.
On July 15, the group is hosting Mud Bog Mania, a fundraiser that Kearsey hopes will both raise money and bring residents out to enjoy a summertime activity.
"We're splitting half of the money with the winner," Kearsey said. "It gets the community together, everybody out having fun."
Eventually, Kearsey said the group wants to have a functioning, self contained SAR unit capable of responding to calls immediately.
"Ideally, if this all worked out the way we would like it to, we would have our own building, our own trucks, our own helicopter, our own boat with our own community equipment," she said.
A SAR unit based in Norman Wells is key to keeping people safe, Doctor said.
"There is so much outdoor activity that happens in Norman Wells - a motor breakdown, or someone gets stranded," he said. "It's just nice to have a go-to group to access whatever funds or equipment we have."
The Sahtu Search and Rescue Society is a registered non-profit society.