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While it may be a lot of hard work, Crichton says the training is one of the best things about volunteer firefighting.
"Things have certainly got a bit more organized than in the 1970s," he chuckles. "The training is getting better all the time and its a great chance to up-skill yourself, as well as work with great people."
Ted Pryce-Jones Whistler Search and Rescue volunteer
The advent of new and improved technologies, plus better training, has also significantly improved Search and Rescue operations since Ted Pryce-Jones first signed up as a volunteer in the mid-70s. Currently secretary to the 26-member Whistler branch, as well as RMOW village supervisor, Pryce-Jones says communications have seen the greatest evolution.
"When I first started there werent small, portable radios at all, just big clunky things that weighed about 15 pounds that you couldnt really take on a search," he recalls.
"Now the miniaturization of radio technologies along with GPS (geographic positioning system) has made each searcher better equipped and more efficient."
The Whistler Search and Rescue Society is staffed entirely by volunteers. Pryce-Jones says some members have employers that will cover them during a callout, but many will lose income for the duration of a search. He says its still worth it.
"I first got involved through North Shore Search and Rescue when I was working as a ranger for the West Vancouver District Municipality and living up on Cyprus Bowl," he says. "I enjoyed the challenges of the searches and the reward of finding someone there is nothing quite like it."
Crews train under the Provincial Emergency Program, which includes ground search techniques, rope rescue, avalanche training, first aid and communications and mapping technology, as well as working with other emergency response groups. Pryce-Jones says training is key, because it builds strong camaraderie, knowledge and solid working systems within the team.
"Your life is in your buddys hands and you have to have complete trust and confidence in each others abilities," he stresses. "You must take care of yourself and other team members first, before you can help others. There is always a certain element of risk but that is why you do your training."
Thinking back over the past 26 years, Pryce-Jone says each callout provides its own lessons in how to improve things the next time around. He says the 1994 search for Anne-Marie Potton, who died on Whistler Mountain some eight hours after breaking her leg during a solo hike, was especially an eye opener.