'We find him, the team finds him': P.E.I. GSAR volunteers ready at all hours

Ground Search and Rescue is looking for new volunteers. Those who have been volunteering for a while say there are many reasons why they stick with it.

GSAR has 103 members in P.E.I. — and is looking to recruit more

Shawn McCardle (left) Ken Hall and Chad Acorn say they enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie of GSAR. (Alison Jenkins/CBC)

Trees rustled and the snow crunched underfoot as Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) technicians made their way through brush. They stopped, checked the map and set a new bearing on the compass then carried on through the woods.

This is how they look for people when the RCMP calls them in.

This was a demonstration, but Shawn McCardle, Ken Hall and Chad Acorn know the stress of searching — and the thrill of finding the lost person. Hall has 17 years experience — six in Nova Scotia.

McCardle has been volunteering for three years and Acorn is the newcomer, with one year experience.

GSAR has been on P.E.I. since 1995. Today, there are 103 men and women aged 18 to late 60s who are ready to plunge into the woods and look for missing people.

Last year was busy, there were nine searches. Usually there are only five or six.

'It was a really good feeling, all alive and well'

Acorn said the calls tend to come in just as he's sitting down to watch the Blue Jays. Becoming a GSAR technician takes a combination of mandatory training and optional courses and Acorn is happy to learn all he can.

"It's definitely something, I'm stickin' with it. It's enjoying."

Chad Acorn (left) and Ken Hall approach the 'control,' the flag used in the map and compass course. Participants will use a map and compass to find the flags, place a mark on the card attached to the flag and then use a map and compass to find the next one. (Alison Jenkins/CBC)

Hall, a veteran member, remembered looking for three kids aged seven, nine and ten. The family had looked all over, but couldn't find them.

GSAR arrived in the early evening and searched for hours. Hall was getting worried.

'It's one big team'

"Around one o'clock in the morning, one of our search teams found them, and you could just see the cheers and the high fives and everybody felt great. It was a really good feeling, all alive and well."

Hall wasn't on the team that found the kids, but it didn't matter, he said.

"You can have ten teams of four out there in the woods and one team might be the find team, but the others are just as important, because knowing where you've already searched and that the person is not there, that's important as well. It's not a matter of who gets to find the person … egos are just gone. You forget it. It's one big team. We find him the team finds him."

"Just to be part of that search and to have a successful ending of finding the person is always a really good feeling," agreed McCardle.

Ken Hall holds a compass while Chad Acorn holds the map, to get a bearing on a control flag in Bonshaw, P.E.I. (Alison Jenkins/CBC)

Map and compass course offered

P.E.I. GSAR is offering a map and compass course April 29. All the members have it and McCardle said it's just good to know.

"I know nowadays our phones all have GPS in them, which are great, but they also have the drawback that batteries die or if you input the wrong data it's not going to help you out. So to have that skill, to be able to use a compass, to be able to look at a map and have a good idea where you are is a pretty important skill to have if you're going to spend time in the outdoors."

'New ideas and new energy': Looking for new recruits

GSAR tries to take on between 15 to 20 new members each year. McCardle said it's not just beating the bushes that people volunteer for, there are jobs at the mobile command post that don't require as much physical endurance.

Hall and McCardle agree that bringing in new members is rewarding.

"It's always good to have new people. They infuse new ideas and new energy. Yeah, it's great," said McCardle.