'It's been a really busy year': Search and rescue teams on track to break records, despite pandemic
VANCOUVER -- The "new normal" of life under the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed down the number of search and rescue calls coming in this summer. In fact, both the Coquitlam and North Shore teams are seeing spikes.
“It’s been certainly above normal throughout this year,” said search manager Jim Delgrande with Coquitlam Search and Rescue. "These days now with the pandemic, things are ramped up, they’re busier yet.”
Delgrande told CTV News over the last two weeks their volunteer team has responded to anywhere from 10 to 12 calls. "Basically everywhere is seeing more hikers," he said. "Three weeks ago we had three of them going on at the same time."
In some cases, access is limited and the province has launched a pilot project for day-use passes at some of the more popular trails. Delgrande said Buntzen Lake, for instance, used to fill by about 10:30 a.m. but now it's sometimes full by 8:30.
That's left some people scrambling to make new plans on the fly, Delgrande said, which can bring new risks, especially if no one else knows where they're headed.
Crews at North Shore Rescue are also grappling with an increase in call, search manager Doug Pope said.
“We’re over 90 calls already this year,” Pope told CTV News. "And that’s tracking above our record year, which was a crazy year of 2018.”
He said the pandemic has kept away most of the tourists, who usually account for a lot of their calls, but teams are still getting deployed constantly. “You’d hope that those locals are better prepared but we’re not seeing that,” said Pope.
The most common calls right now are for twisted ankles, Pope added, mainly when hikers aren't wearing proper shoes.
“A gym shoe, or a street sneaker, I’ve even seen sparkly high heel-type sneakers. They’re not adequate footwear,” Pope said. "It is a big deal if you’re 10 kilometres back, no cell reception, your friend has to go back and phone to try and get cell reception.”
He wants to see the people tasked with checking day-use permits to inspect hikers’ gear too, especially given how COVID-19 has complicated rescue missions.
“It means a lot of extra precautions on top of the normal safety and other hazards that we have to deal with on a typical rescue,” said Pope.
Teams want hikers to think of the three Ts before heading out for a hike: “Trip plan, train and take essentials,” said Sandra Riches, executive director of AdventureSmart. "We really need you to think about the what if.”
Riches said hikers must make sure they're physically fit enough to tackle the hike, carry the 10 essentials in case they get lost or stuck, and that someone knows where they're going.
“All those steps need to be in place so you can get home safe and sound and so search and rescue can find you sooner,” said Riches, adding that people should of course call for help if they're in trouble.