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Search and Rescue consider a withdrawal of services

Concerns over liability in wake of recent lawsuit



Search and Rescue volunteers already have to worry about a lot of different things when immersed in a rescue - changes of weather, the ruggedness of the terrain, the possibility of avalanches, and the safety of their targets and follow team members. Now you can add to that the threat of a lawsuit if something goes wrong.

Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) will meet with four other local SAR groups tonight (Wednesday) to discuss how to respond to concerns over liability, and how to provide services until they get the right assurances from the province.

"We plan to devise a common position in seeking a longer term resolution with the Crown," said Whistler Search and Rescue manager Brad Sills on Tuesday night after local search and rescue society members met to talk over the situation.

At tonight's meeting will be Search and Rescue representatives from the North Shore, Lions Bay, Squamish, Pemberton, and Whistler.

Sills, who has been involved in search and rescue for over 30 years, said he might have to resign from his position as WSAR manager after learning that there was a chance that he could be held personally liable if the Society was sued.

He has stepped back from that position as WSAR seeks some clarity around the issues.

At the meeting, said Sills, "There was unanimous decision to move forward with support for Golden Search and Rescue in obtaining a proper and legal defence paid for by the province of British Columbia."

The issue of liability came up following a lawsuit that was launched against the Golden and District Search and Rescue Association after the death of Marie-Josee Fortin.

She and her husband Gilles Blackburn, who launched the lawsuit, skied out of bounds near Kicking Horse Mountain Resort outside of Golden in February. Fortin died of hypothermia after the couple spent a week lost in the wilderness.

Two days after she died Blackburn, who had stamped S.O.S. signs into the snow, was rescued.

Blackburn is also suing the RCMP, 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 organizations around the province into a frenzy of insurance form checking.

It is estimated that one third of the 80 SAR groups in B.C. do not have third party liability coverage for members, directors and executives, putting their personal property at risk.

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.

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