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Hinton SAR continued activity through pandemic

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


While the Hinton Search and Rescue (SAR) has had a busy month, things aren’t quite back to normal.

Three calls in 2020 included one mutual aid standby for Grande Cache, one search and rescue in the Edson area, and one search and rescue in the Evansburg area.

Over the past few months, the team trained via Zoom video-calls while the COVID-19 pandemic kept everyone indoors and apart. The biggest challenge was keeping people engaged and interested, said Ray Howarth, president of SAR.

“We scaled back our training to once a month and we went onto Zoom,” he said.

The team relied on visual training like doing knots, ropes, and map reading. During one training session, director of training Hans van Klaveren brought his laptop into the backyard as he taught the team bushcraft skills and survival knives skills.

“He was right in his backyard and his neighbours were looking over the fence. It was comical,” Howarth laughed.

van Klaveren started a little fire while on Zoom to show everyone who followed along what to do.

The team has since had one training session in person where they headed into the bush and worked with radio communications.

“It was really nice to get the team together again and I think everybody really missed it,” said Howarth’s wife, Lisa Howarth, who is the SAR director of membership.

One of the members offered up her property on West River Road for training sessions that would allow for physical distancing while covering some important training points.

The SAR team is currently up to 29 members and Lisa noted that it has been difficult to add new members as criminal record checks are taking long due to the impact of the pandemic.

“That’s another real challenge for us as well. Even just keeping our first aid current, we do have people who have lapsed or are going to lapse,” Howarth said.

Howarth noted that while they would never turn any volunteers away, it has been challenging to keep up with training of their current members.

In 2020, the SAR team has had three calls, including one in the past two weeks where they were stood down and reactivated.

All calls were to assist other teams in neighbouring communities.

“They actually worked out very well, we were able to get together and everybody responded in a really timely manner,” Howarth said.

As reported on canadianpolicereport.ca, the Edson RCMP, along with the assistance of numerous local area SAR teams conducted a coordinated search of a remote area and found the deceased body of Rick Paulson, a 66-year-old male from Wildwood on June 28.

Hinton SAR attended another search and rescue on June 24 for 26-year-old Jessica Ashley Alyward, from the Evansburg and Edmonton areas, as reported by canadianpolicereport.ca.

According to the report, Evansburg RCMP and RCMP support services conducted searches of the area but were unable to locate her. Alyward has been located safe and unharmed.

On average, about five to nine members respond to a call. Since SAR is a volunteer organization, they take into consideration that their members are still working, recreating, and conducting their own lives, Howarth noted.

With a larger number of members, they still expect a decent number of them to be able to respond to calls.

“I’m so fortunate and proud to be working together with such a dedicated and dynamic volunteer group of people. There are absolutely no expectations or predetermined agendas that drive any of our team members that I’ve ever seen. Each individual is in this for a reason. It is not a job, it isn’t a burden, I think I can speak for most when I say it is a task we’ve accepted and it is not glorious by any stretch, but it is extremely satisfying,” said Howarth.

He added that some members are more active than others and what makes volunteering so great is the fact that everyone gives what they can and don’t have to meet a requirement. In general all members are looking forward to being able to get together in person again and move forward, he added.

“We haven’t had any resignations as of yet and I don’t expect any in the near future,” Howarth said.

On an average year, Hinton SAR receives between two to five local callouts, while assistance calls can be unlimited. In turn, other communities lend assistance to Hinton when necessary.

The SAR team plans to do a mock search together with the RCMP this summer, but nothing has been officially organized.

“Things are always evolving for us and it’s really challenging having to roll with all the punches. Yet at the same time trying to maintain that distancing, still trying to keep people engaged at the same time,” Howarth said.

He hopes the team can be part of two mock searches with RCMP members this summer, but noted that the team is almost in a state of being on hold due to the pandemic.

In the next couple of weeks or months and once the province moves into Stage 3, the whole community as well as the SAR team will be able to get back to business as usual, he said.