When people go missing, usually after hiking or skiing in the back country on Vancouver Island, one of the first calls is to the local Search and Rescue. Ken Welte, a sales rep with Sutton Group Realty Services in Nanaimo, B.C., and his wife and business partner Laura recently completed a year of training to become volunteers with the Ladysmith Search and Rescue team. They spent a night outdoors in below-freezing temperatures without a tent relying only on basic equipment such as a tarp, sleeping bags, a fire starter and years of experience.
“When the instructor came by to check on us, he referred to our campsite as the Hilton,” says Ken. “We were prepared.” But that does not mean everything was easy.
To become volunteers, they completed approximately 50 hours of academic instruction on topics as diverse as swift water awareness, radio communications, bear safety, using stretchers, SAR command procedures and more. There were monthly tests and field work.
“I had to push myself to do things outside of my comfort zone,” says Laura. “Afterwards it was rewarding to say, ‘I just dragged a stretcher up the side of a mountain.’”
Ken spent two weeks last summer earning his certification in Occupational First Aid Level III. Over the years, he has also gained experience as an Air Cadet volunteer, often taking teenage cadets on wilderness trips. To keep his First Aid skills sharp, Ken now also volunteers as an attendant at community events.
“On average, I believe Central Vancouver Island gets about 60 calls a year,” says Ken. “That’s an average of more than one per week, although summer is the busiest time. This past summer, as members in training, we sometimes had a call every night.”