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SAR teams stay on job despite insurance anxiety

Lawyer for lost Golden skier says client wants to makes sure no one else goes through what he did

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Search and rescue teams along Highway 99 will continue to respond to call outs.

But they want the provincial government to investigate the type of insurance they have and they want all coverage to be paid for by the Crown, including third party liability.

"We will continue providing service for the immediate future," said Brad Sills, manager of Whistler's Search and Rescue (SAR).

"But we have identified specific gaps in the province's coverage for SAR teams and we are going to work together with the B.C. SAR Association to ensure that there is a blanket and comprehensive liability policy put in place for all SAR volunteers in the province, at all times."

For example, said Sills, they are not covered by insurance as they travel back and forth to training sites.

SAR leaders of Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish, Lions Bay and the North Shore met last week to discuss the issue, which is in the spotlight following a lawsuit that was launched against the Golden and District Search and Rescue Association in the death of Marie-Josee Fortin.

She and her husband Gilles Blackburn, who launched the lawsuit, skied from the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, near Golden, into the backcountry in February. Fortin died of hypothermia after the couple spent a week lost in the wilderness. Two days after Fortin died Blackburn was rescued.

Blackburn's "SOS" stamped into the snow had been reported to authorities but a search was not initiated for several days. Officials said they had found no indication anyone was missing.

Blackburn is also suing the RCMP, The Kicking Horse Resort, the attorney general of B.C. and other defendants.

It is the first time a rescue association or society has been sued and it has sent the organizations into a frenzy of insurance form checking.

Initially several search and rescue groups decided to withhold services until the insurance issue had been clarified. Currently, however, only Golden is still off-line.

Under current policy if SAR groups are called out on a rescue and receive what is known as a task number from the Emergency Control Centre (ECC) of the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) then all members are covered, unless negligent. They also have Workers Compensation Board coverage.

However, it is up to each individual SAR society or association to insure its own organization, including the executives and directors.

"It is timely that this has come up as it has caused us all to realize that (the coverage) is inadequate and completely unworkable in the long run," said Sills.

"It has to change."

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