British Columbia

Search and rescue officials concerned increased calls could deplete protective equipment supply

Kamloops Search and Rescue is urging residents to be safe during outdoor activities in the coming months, because they’re concerned they may run out of personal protective equipment, which would leave them unable to attend to searches. 

BC Search and Rescue Association creating PPE caches

The COVID-19 pandemic means search and rescue calls now require team members to wear personal protective equipment, such as face masks. (Kamloops Search and Rescue)

Kamloops Search and Rescue is urging residents to be safe during outdoor activities in the coming months, because they're concerned they may run out of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, which would leave them unable to attend to searches. 

Last week, search and rescue calls throughout the province were up 35 per cent compared to the same time last year, according to B.C. Search and Rescue Association senior manager Dwight Yochim, for a total of 23 searches province-wide.  

"That becomes a bit of a concern because between now and August, the number of tasks only increases," he said. 

In the month of August alone, Yochim estimates there are normally 250 searches. 

Kamloops Search and Rescue responds to 35 calls per year on average. Volunteer Jenn Stahn said calls tend to spike in May and June, but it's hard to predict how much PPE they will need for each call. 

"For example, we had a task fairly recently that was a stretcher carry and we went through I believe about 14 or 15 masks alone just in that time," she said. "So while we might seem to have a good stock of 150 sitting at the hall, it doesn't take very long to get through those."

If they don't have enough PPE needed for the call, they can't go, and another team in the area will be called to do the search. Yochim said two search teams in B.C. have been told to stand down on searches this year because they had run out of PPE.

The B.C. Search and Rescue Association is creating PPE caches to keep regional teams stocked up on essential protective equipment.

"We've never had to do that before and we're trying to support the team so that they don't put themselves at risk," Yochim said. 

"It's definitely a relief to know that we do have that backup coming," Stahn said, but reminds residents to plan, and be cautious when heading out on trails over the upcoming long weekend.

With files from Jenifer Norwell and Daybreak Kamloops

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