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Funding to aid training for Alberta search and rescue teams

“It recognizes there’s a baseline for what we need to know and then there’s specialties. We’re trying to give each region, each team that has their own specialty areas to have that base level knowledge."

BANFF – An influx of more than $2 million from the federal government will help to standardize training across Alberta’s search and rescue teams.

The federal funding will aid the Search and Rescue Association of Alberta in providing more consistent and standardized training for the 33 volunteer rescue teams spread out across six regions in the province.

“There’s been a lot of training that’s been more ad hoc with each team and now we’re going to make that more consistent, so they’re all providing the same level of service across the province,” said Doug Ritchie, vice president of the board for Search and Rescue Association of Alberta.

Ritchie said there won’t be a dramatic change on the ground for the way rescues are responded to, but the ability to standardize and formalize training will aid when rescue teams are called to other jurisdictions during rescues or emergency situations.

He noted a level of training is needed prior to volunteering, but certification, accreditation and a level of governance will also aid in the consistency of training.

Training is largely done by each rescue team, so a team in an area such as Red Deer, Medicine Hat or Grande Prairie may not be familiar with the type of training if they’re needed in a call in the Bow Valley or vice versa.

“It recognizes there’s a baseline for what we need to know and then there’s specialties. We’re trying to give each region, each team that has their own specialty areas to have that base level knowledge,” Ritchie said.

Bill Blair, the president of the King’s Privy Council of Canada and the Minister of Emergency Preparedness, said rescuers are often “pushed to their limits on a regular basis,” particularly in more remote areas.

He said the diversity and vastness of areas across Canada highlight “how challenging conditions can be when it comes to search and rescue operations.”

While the area of the Bow Valley has highly trained and well-resourced safety teams in Kananaskis Mountain Rescue, Parks Canada mountain safety specialists, Alpine Helicopters rescue pilots and numerous fire-rescue departments, search and rescue teams can be frequently called in to aid in the several hundred rescues each year.

The $2 million would be a one-time grant that would be in addition to the annual $7.6 million in annual funding for Public Safety Canada’s search and rescue new initiatives fund (SAR NIF) which aims to help improve search and rescue in Canada.

John Alexander, the CEO of the Search and Rescue Association of Alberta, said the “funding has come at an important time for our organization.”

He added Alberta’s search and rescue teams have about 1,500 volunteers who have responded to more than 700 incidents in the last two years.

Lexie Busby, the revitalization project leader, added rescues are continuing to climb and Ritchie said with more natural disasters occurring the need for unified levels of training is all the more important.

With people turning to more outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for search and rescue teams was highlighted.

Ritchie said they also have a continuous dialogue with search and rescue organizations in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia to assist with better collaboration between the shared borders or when assistance is needed.

“We are trying to train all our volunteers so they can respond to similar emergencies,” he said. “If a flood happens, we can send a team [from elsewhere in the province] to help with a flood situation. That’s an area we’re trying to improve on.”

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