Meet 2 of North Shore Rescue's women volunteers, putting their lives on the line to save others

·3 min read
Kayla Brolly has volunteered with North Shore Rescue for eight years.  (Camille Vernet/Radio Canada - image credit)
Kayla Brolly has volunteered with North Shore Rescue for eight years. (Camille Vernet/Radio Canada - image credit)

North Shore Rescue, Canada's most famous — and busiest — volunteer search and rescue team, pulls off about 130 operations every year in the popular hiking and skiing mountains immediately north of Vancouver.

Increasingly, women are joining the ranks of the mostly male squad, bringing their expertise to the difficult and dangerous work of saving the lives of those lost or injured in the backcountry.

Kayla Brolly, one of seven women currently on the 45-person team, joined NSR eight years ago.

"I do this work because it is immensely rewarding," said Brolly, who is a nurse.

"You feel a great sense of relief when you locate a subject ... then you move forward to the extraction and you know that you're able to try and get this person home to their families. And you just feel pretty proud of your team, too, because this work isn't easy."

Surya Carmichael has volunteered with North Shore Rescue for four years.
Surya Carmichael has volunteered with North Shore Rescue for four years.(Camille Vernet/Radio Canada)

The demands of the job are not for the unfit or faint of heart. NSR is called out to a wide range of missions, from complex helicopter rescues in steep and snowy terrain, to searches for missing children and older people.

And while it's true the majority of volunteers have historically been men, Brolly says women have proven themselves equally capable.

"I think the physicality of the work for myself hasn't been impacted by the fact that I'm a woman — like at all. I've never struggled with any of the tasks I've been assigned and I don't think that's a barrier at all for women in this type of work," she said.

Surya Carmichael said she immediately felt at home when she joined NSR four years ago.

"The team has been very welcoming to women," she said. "There's a diversity — diversity of genders, but also of passions, experiences and ethnicity, which brings different ideas and it's better for the team."

Brolly and Carmichael work on a nighttime ropes training maneuver.
Brolly and Carmichael work on a nighttime ropes training maneuver.(Camille Vernet/Radio Canada)

NSR members put in countless hours of training to keep their skills sharp, always looking for ways to mitigate the risk to themselves while doing their utmost to complete a successful rescue.

Brolly says the work demands a combination of hard and soft skills, which she and her female teammates have in large supply.

"I think the women bring a special element: very creative problem-solving, lots of experience with multitasking and just excellent skills. They come in with unbelievable mountaineering skills, navigation skills, rope rescue, all these different domains, and then we get to learn from each other," she said.

Volunteering with NSR can take a toll on one's personal life in all sorts of ways — Brolly jokes that her financial planner hates her.

Brolly, front, is featured in the Knowledge Network documentary series Search and Rescue: North Shore, giving viewers a glimpse into some of the harrowing rescues pulled off by the team.
Brolly, front, is featured in the Knowledge Network documentary series Search and Rescue: North Shore, giving viewers a glimpse into some of the harrowing rescues pulled off by the team. (Search and Rescue North Shore Facebook)

But inevitably, the satisfaction of serving on the highly respected team has a way of outshining the negatives.

"My favourite thing about search and rescue is the camaraderie," said Brolly. "When you do these pretty dangerous things in pretty tough places and go through tough situations, you create a lot of bonds."