A jury has issued nine recommendations after an inquest into the death of B.C. search and rescue volunteer Sheilah Sweatman during a recovery mission.
Sweatman, 29, died in 2011 while trying to retrieve the body of a woman in a vehicle submerged in the Goat River, near Creston, B.C. A WorkSafeBC report found Sweatman drowned after her leg got wrapped up in a steel cable, which dragged her underwater and that there was no quick way to cut through the cable.
Among the recommendations returned Saturday evening, the jury suggests developing universal standards for swift water rescue and recovery, as well as universal standards for equipment.
The recommendations also suggest all search and rescue teams be audited to make sure they have appropriate equipment and that Emergency Management B.C. review funding models to better support search and rescue organizations.
B.C. Search and Rescue Association president Don Bindon says he's pleased with the recommendations.
"We recognize and understand all of those recommendations," he said. "They are not foreign to us at all. We are implementing some of them already and we're going to implement the rest to the best of our ability."
An emotional Wynn Sweatman, Sheilah's father, spoke with reporters after the coroner's jury delivered its recommendations. "I told them that Sheilah was courageous and passionate and that the managers and the system needs to protect the passionate volunteers."
Jury's 9 recommendations
- That Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC) expand the existing Swift Water Task Force to include members of search and rescue operations as well as the RCMP, B.C. River Guides Association, B.C. River Outfitters Association, WorkSafeBC and any other appropriate stakeholders.
- That EMBC and the B.C. Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) develop universal standards for swift water rescue and recovery training to ensure consistent language and training applications.
- That EMBC and BCSARA develop universal standards for swift water rescue and recovery equipment.
- That an audit be conducted of all Search and Rescue (SAR) communities to ensure they have the required equipment and training for their respective communities based on their unique areas. Where there is a lack of the required equipment and/or training, immediate consultation with BCSARA and EMBC must occur.
- That EMBC review and evaluate funding models to better support SAR operations, training and equipment similar to Volunteer Fire Departments’ funding.
- That Swift Water teams use only their own equipment during search and rescue operations whenever possible. If any unfamiliar equipment is introduced into a task, a proper risk assessment must be completed.
- That the Volunteer Policy and Procedures Manual be reviewed by EMBC to clarify the roles and responsibilities of varying agencies involved in SAR activities.
- That during an operation, a specific Safety Officer be designated whenever possible. This Safety Officer’s position will be their sole function.
- That EMBC with the assistance of the SAR stakeholders develop a standardized risk assessment tool for use in Swift Water operations.