Dozens of times every year, volunteers with Comox Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR) respond to calls, at all hours of the day, to look for people who are missing and rescue people who are injured or in distress.
With growing populations and burgeoning interest in outdoor recreation, demand for the team’s efforts have nearly doubled in a decade. In 2021, CVSAR volunteers responded to the call a record 72 times. This service is offered at no cost to those who are rescued and their families.
But, like many people and groups in the Comox Valley region, the search and rescue crew is feeling the pinch of rising costs. Other search and rescue groups on Vancouver Island house their operations in low-cost or free public facilities. Meanwhile, CVSAR leases a private facility, with building costs rising to $88,000 this year.
Government funding falls short of covering costs, so the team must fundraise to meet the shortfall, says Paul Berry, a search manager and Public Information Officer for CVSAR.
“It’s a huge undertaking for non-profit volunteers who already spend thousands of hours on training and operations to also commit hundreds of hours to fundraising,” Berry tells The Discourse.
The search and rescue group has a plan. It is in the midst of a campaign to raise $1.5 million towards buying or building its own facility.
If all goes well, “we can be pretty much mortgage free, and take those dollars that are hard earned from the government and put them towards training, [and the] replacement of aging equipment,” says Berry.
While many people and groups have stepped up with support, there is still a lot of fundraising needed to reach their goal. The money raised is currently sitting at slightly over $600,000.
Access to land remains a significant hurdle. It is negotiating with local governments and the school board in hopes of securing something. If local landowner were able to donate a suitable piece of land, “that would be an amazing gesture,” he says.
On Sunday, Oct. 1, CVSAR invites community members to help celebrate its 50th anniversary with a barbecue and open house, from 1 to 4 p.m. at its current facility, 3001 Moray Ave. in Courtenay. It’s a chance to get to know the volunteers and learn more about what they do, and consider making a contribution to the fundraising effort.
The Comox Valley Regional District has agreed to contribute $500,000 over the next five years towards this effort.
“That is deeply appreciated,” says Berry.
And individuals have stepped up in many big and small ways, too.
Thierry Vrain, age 77, was rescued by CVSAR after going missing on Aug. 15 near Mount Becher, a popular hiking spot in the Comox Valley. He held a fundraiser on Sept. 5, with a goal $5,000, and ended up raising about $34,000. “I think everybody should be contributing something,” Vrain told CBC News.
Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse