In Praise of a SAR Legend
By Paul Dixon
I first met Tim Jones about 15 years ago, through my work at the local police office and my involvement with the local emergency management program.
By Paul Dixon
I first met Tim Jones about 15 years ago, through my work at the local police office and my involvement with the local emergency management program. You couldn’t live in North Vancouver and not be aware of Tim Jones, both as a paramedic with BC Ambulance and to a much greater extent, for his role with North Shore Rescue. Jones passed away earlier this month while participating in a SAR operation.
I don’t like to use the work “hero” as it has become so overused in recent years that it has lost any sense of meaning. I call Tim Jones a champion, defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as “a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of another person.” That was the Tim I knew, the “3P Tim” – passionate, persistent, sometimes profound and even occasionally profane. He was opinionated, outspoken and definitely someone who didn’t mince words. Tim was a lightning rod. He spoke his mind and the media loved him for it, though it sometimes didn’t play well in the broader community of first responders and emergency workers. The people he seemed to upset the most, where those who were most comfortable sitting behind a desk and listing the reasons that they couldn’t do what Tim thought was required. That’s when I might hear from Tim, on the phone or in person. The conversation would be one-sided, with 15 minutes of Tim venting his frustrations with what had happened, or more often not happened, and would usually end with him saying, “I know you can’t do anything about it, but thanks for listening.”
Last year, Tim ignited a firestorm with his comments about the need to provide some degree of financial support to search-and-rescue (SAR) volunteers. During the peak summer season, when local helicopters may be engaged in firefighting duties, it may be difficult to find a HETS pilot who can respond in a timely manner. It can be equally difficult to expect HETS qualified SAR volunteers to stay close to home in case a call comes.
Tim wasn’t asking for volunteers to be paid an actual wage, but rather a stipend for carrying the pager for a weekend and staying close to home. For helicopters, he was suggesting that one helicopter and pilot could be placed on standby for local SAR groups on a regional basis in the same way that the provincial government contracts helicopters for firefighting purposes.
If you saw the CBC Doc Zone show that aired four days before Tim’s death – “To The Rescue” – you saw a broad overview of Canada’s search-and-rescue responsibilities and capabilities, with a particular focus on North Shore Rescue. The point was made during the show that as tourism and outdoor recreation increases in this province, so does the burden on community-based volunteer SAR teams, with deliberate emphasis on “volunteer.” Community-based SAR is not free by any stretch of the imagination.
People volunteer their time and most of them are exceedingly generous, by what they give up in terms of family time and personal enjoyment. If the SAR member is in a relationship or has a family, there is huge burden placed on the partners who are left to juggle their own responsibilities, childcare and those thousands of little details that make a house a home.
Many teams across the province are finding it more difficult to attract people with the physical and mental skills required. They are also finding it tough to retain members whose outside lives are catching up with them. To work a full-time job and then simply take on the training schedule required to be an active team member is a Herculean task. On top of everything else, fundraising activities can take huge chunks out of the calendar. Many teams are registered charities, which can make them more attractive for donations, but it still takes a lot of time over the course of the year.
It must be extremely challenging for teams outside the core population areas to raise money. Over the years, many teams have relied on provincial gaming grants, but these have to be applied for every year and there is never any guarantee that the money will be forthcoming.
The funding model for volunteer SAR programs has to change, or there is a very real chance that many of these teams will cease to exist or exist in a diminished capacity. We don’t need to have a “conversation” or a “consultation.” We need a few more people (like Tim Jones) who care – care about what they do and care about the people they do it for.
Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.