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COVID-19 protocols slowing down search and rescue efforts, putting 'big toll' on Squamish team
Published Friday, June 5, 2020 6:43PM PDT Last Updated Friday, June 5, 2020 8:16PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- A technical rescue for search and rescue crews is challenging enough, but now they’re dealing with an added threat: COVID-19.
Last month, in the span of just three days, Squamish SAR responded to five calls.
“The first call came in at about 4:30 in the morning and then from there it was a very busy few days,” said Squamish SAR manager Tyler Duncan.
While that's not an unusual call volume for a weekend in May, Duncan said SAR teams are now dealing with pandemic protocols that complicate and slow down their efforts.
“We have to be a little more cautious with the number of people that we (send) to rescues,” said Duncan, which means they’re putting fewer people in their trucks and helicopters. "So rescues can definitely take a little bit longer.”
And everything, from gear to their vehicles, needs to be well sanitized.
“One person has to do all that to limit the exposure when we’re actually sanitizing it,” he told CTV News. "It’s a huge amount of manpower.”
Those five rescues over three days amounted to about 500 man hours of work, Duncan added.
Each member is also wearing personal protective equipment, which includes N95 masks, gloves and goggles, and a lot of their PPE has been donated to the crew by local businesses.
“It’s definitely been a big toll on the team. Throughout the whole pandemic, we’ve changed how we do things,” Duncan said.
Squamish Mayor Karen Elliot urged people to "be a little bit more conservative this summer" when deciding how to spend their time outdoors to save crews some trouble.
“It is so difficult for our SARs teams, of course they’re going to respond, but it takes more time and they have to use more vehicles because of physical distancing,” Elliott said.
For now, Elliott is also asking anyone who doesn’t live in Squamish to stay out of the backcountry. “We are waiting for Phase 3 before we really say please come and visit,” she explained.
Of those five rescues, crews told CTV News the majority of the people who needed help lived in the area.
The mayor said that the town is looking forward to welcoming everyone back to the Sea to Sky corridor.
But due to the low number of cases in the area, “there is some fear in small communities that travellers from the city will bring the illness with them,” said Elliott. Restaurants in town are getting ready to welcome back the rest of Metro Vancouver.
As for those planning to head into the back country, Duncan said, make sure you have the essentials in your bag, leave a trip plan, and perhaps a little extra food.
“Understand that it might take us a little bit longer to get there so be conservative in what you’re doing,” he said. “We are a service, we are here, we want to come and get you if you’re in trouble and the earlier you call us the quicker it is.”