Safety on all frequencies in Canada’s extreme climates
Sahtu Search and Rescue volunteers are ‘immensely dedicated’ to remote northern communities
It started as a tragic story in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories.
But it led directly to an organized effort—to prevent such an incident from ever happening again.
In 2014, the community of Norman Wells was forced to come to grips with the loss of a young man named Richard St. Germain, who had lost his life after a canoe accident on the Mackenzie river near the town.
Jaime Kearsey, president of the Sahtu Search and Rescue Society, says while the experience rocked the community, it also “opened our eyes to realizing that Sahtu didn’t have a search and rescue unit.”
Kearsey started with Sahtu Search and Rescue as a volunteer in 2015, and was among a handful of town residents who helped build independence for the organization and an ability to respond to emergencies—immediately.
“We used to really rely on different communities for different skill sets to come and help us respond to an emergency situation,” says Kearsey. “It obviously added significant time to our searches and being able to save lives like Richard’s.”
The search and rescue team now boasts 15 people who are trained in big river and wilderness rescue. The team serves roughly 700 community members and all five communities within the vast Sahtu region.
“Our volunteers have built a life in our community and are immensely dedicated to the safety of each person,” says Kearsey.
And as with any public service initiative, having the latest technology certainly speeds up the process and, consequently, has the potential to save more people.
Since its launch, Enbridge's Safe Community program has invested more than US$18.4 million (more than C$24 million) in first responder organizations near our pipelines and facilities.
Enbridge has a relationship with Sahtu Search and Rescue dating back to 2015, giving $7,500 each year as part of our commitment to improving safety in communities near our operations. The funding goes towards equipment purchased for the search and rescue team, like radios and nets.
Sonar equipment in particular is all the rage lately, as the sound-centered technology can cut a team’s required search time and resources in half.
The remote nature of Norman Wells and the surrounding communities that the organization serves means Sahtu Search and Rescue operates all of its emergency response and search efforts in one.
“We like to talk about all of these big ideas and plans, but then you realize the costs associated and it just isn’t possible with our current fundraising efforts,” says Kearsey. “We have a great relationship with the fire department, who let us use their space not just during incidents but during training or educational sessions, too.”
The organization partners with other groups for great fundraising events, like the annual adult-only Mud Bog Mania, but still relies heavily on donations to keep operations running.
Kearsey in particular is excited about the next generation of Sahtu Search and Rescue-rs.
“I love educating our youth on water and wilderness safety,” she says. “Kids just have the greatest questions.”
(TOP PHOTO: Volunteers with the Sahtu Search and Rescue Society are trained in big river and wilderness rescue.)
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